- Getty/Lars Niki
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez again insisted that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) isn’t broken and argued that the healthcare system should be fully funded and protected from privatization despite years of dysfunction, long wait times, and substandard care.
- “There is a myth that all VAs everywhere are broken,” the congresswoman said at a town hall on Saturday. “Because if we can starve them of budgets and make sure that they can’t do their job, then we can say the whole system should be thrown away.”
- Some Democrats, including Rep. Seth Moulton, a 2020 candidate and Marine veteran, have criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s stance, calling for private-care options for veterans.
- A September 2018 Military Times poll found just 20% of active-duty troops hold a “favorable” view of the VA, with 40% saying their view of the department is “unfavorable.”
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez again insisted that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) isn’t broken and argued that the healthcare system should be fully funded and protected from privatization despite years of dysfunction, long wait times, and substandard care.
“There is a myth that all VAs everywhere are broken,” she said at a town hall in Corona, Queens, New York, on Saturday. “Because if we can starve them of budgets and make sure that they can’t do their job, then we can say the whole system should be thrown away.”
She went on, “I’m not gonna back down from protecting the VA, I’m not gonna back down from saying we should fund it.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s repeated claim that the department has 48,000 vacancies is higher than the number on record. VA officials reported last fall that the department has more than 45,000 vacant positions, about 11% of the VA’s total workforce. Almost 17% of management posts were unfilled last year.
Democratic lawmakers have said that those positions should be filled before the department outsources healthcare services to private providers.
The VA has for years suffered from excessively long wait times, corruption scandals, and underfunding. In 2016, the former director of the VA’s crisis hotline said one-third of calls to the suicide-prevention hotline went unanswered. Between 2005 and 2015, an average of 20 veterans died by suicide every day, a rate that is 1.5 times higher than among adults who haven’t served in the military, after adjusting for gender and age.
A September 2018 Military Times poll found just 20% of active-duty troops hold a “favorable” view of the VA, with 40% saying their view of the department is “unfavorable.”
Lawmakers have long debated efforts to privatize the system, which proponents say would offer veterans higher quality and more easily accessible care and critics say would increase healthcare costs and funnel taxpayer dollars into private corporations.
A 2018 ProPublica and PolitiFact investigation found that wait times were longer and costs higher for veterans who received private healthcare during four years of the Veterans Choice Program. In response to the report, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie agreed that the department was “taken advantage of” in paying $2 billion in fees to private companies tasked with booking veterans’ appointments with private doctors.
Rep. Seth Moulton shares his opinion on the Department of Veteran Affairs: “The VA is broken … My bottom line is that veterans deserve the best health care in the world. Period.” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/FYh89ziZIQ
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 28, 2019
This particular debate began when Ocasio-Cortez said at another town hall earlier this month that Americans should resist efforts to privatize the VA’s services.
“All I can think of is that classic refrain that my parents always taught me growing up, is that: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” she said, arguing that Trump and his allies are “trying to fix the VA for a for-profit healthcare industry that does not put people or veterans first.”
Congressional Republicans took issue with Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, calling her praise of the VA “offensive.” Some Democrats, including Rep. Seth Moulton, a 2020 candidate and Marine veteran, have also criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s stance.
Moulton said that private insurance “should be an option” for veterans seeking care through the VA. Recent efforts to expand veterans’ access to private care have received bipartisan support.
But on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he agrees with Ocasio-Cortez that the VA “is not broken,” saying that his administration had fixed it.
Read more: 7 things you should never say to a veteran
“Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct, the VA is not broken, it is doing great. But that is only because of the Trump Administration,” the president wrote. “We got Veterans Choice & Accountability passed.”
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted in response to the exchange, “Oh boy. Here we go. It was bound to happen sooner or later. @realDonaldTrump vs. @AOC on Twitter. With veterans, the VA, truth, and the real best interests of veterans stuck in the crossfire.”
He added, “And no, the VA is not doing great. It does some things great. Others ok. Others badly. That’s the complex truth most vets know and have experienced. Like with most issues in America, the truth is not on the ideological extremes.”
Last year, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which significantly increased the number of veterans eligible for private healthcare. More than one-third – 36% – of veterans’ healthcare is now provided by the private sector, up from 22% in 2014. But Trump declined to approve a bipartisan bill to fund the new law earlier this year.