So it begins. Yesterday Jeb Bush called for the privatization of veterans care while opening up a huge opportunity for Hillary Clinton and others seeking the Democratic nomination.
"This is where I think empowering people with the equivalent of a voucher that gives you the same economic benefit of receiving care inside of a clinic or a hospital," Bush said in Colorado Springs yesterday.
That jibes with a previous statement he made in New Hampshire: "I'm all in on the voucher thing."
The voucher thing. It just inspires so much confidence that he gives a fig about veterans and the level of care they need -- and earned.
I don't claim to be a fortune teller, but just last week on The Huffington Post I predicted that a GOP candidate would make the case for privatization very soon. At that time, while also debunking the efficacy of the policy, I wrote:
There is no doubt that veterans shouldn't have to rely on the VA for everything. But what Republican candidates, backed by the Koch-brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America, talk about is the beginning of the end of the pact we make with our veterans to give them the care they need. What they want is the privatization of veterans' care: Fight for your country and get a voucher.
Veterans like the care they get at the VA. A lot. Closing the VA is the first step toward ending other popular programs like Medicare. In fact, that's what this whole fight is about.
The Kochs, and Concerned Veterans of America, which they fund, have long been at odds with major veterans-service organizations (VSOs), from the VFW to American Legion, on the issue of privatization of the VA.
The reason is actually quite simple.
While the scandal that rocked the agency, regarding wait times, brought new attention to the agency's fixable shortcomings, the VA still enjoys tremendous favorability among veterans who use its services, according to independent surveys. Not only that, but the VA consistently delivers a higher level of care than private hospitals, according to the RAND Corporation.
In short, the VA provides high-level care that veterans, overall, very much like.
Jeb Bush wants to end that, kowtowing to the Kochs rather than listening to the largest veterans organizations in America. I have very little doubt that GOP candidate after GOP candidate will do the same.
This opens up a tremendous opportunity for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats as they begin announcing their campaigns. Stand up for veterans. Say that you stand with the major VSOs against privatization efforts and will not send veterans off to find their own care with just a voucher and a pat on the back.
Besides being good policy, it is good politics.
When you think of veterans organizations and their annual gatherings in Washington, the image that often comes to mind is one of older white men. It is the one group of voters that Jeb Bush, or any Republican candidate, cannot afford to lose. For Hillary Clinton or any Democratic nominee to stand up with those veterans means pitting the GOP nominee against them. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose.
With all of this talk of privatization ramping up, now is the time for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats to knock the idea down. Veterans will be watching.