This past Thursday, August 7 President Obama signed into law the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014; the week prior to that the U.S. Senate appointed Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary. Am I crazy or are these two events clear signals of the privatization of the Veterans Administration and veterans’ care?
The VA access bill contains $16.3 billion dollars alleged to improve veterans’ access to and quality of medical care. Approximately $5 billion are designated to hire new doctors and nurses at nearly 1000 hospitals and other medical facilities throughout the United States; $2 billion to lease (not build) new medical facilities; and $10 billion for a program allowing veterans to seek outside help if they have waited 30 or more days for care or if they live farther than 40 miles from a VA facility. The bill also gives the new VA secretary unprecedented power to fire personnel, allowing for an appeals’ window of only one week.
As far as the new secretary, Bob McDonald, I doubt his credentials could have possibly been more business oriented. After serving only 5 years in the military, and having no experience whatsoever in healthcare, secretary McDonald moved on to build a profitable career in Corporate America. He served for four years as CEO of Procter and Gamble (P&G), a giant consumer goods multinational company. During his tenure, McDonald’s signature was to downsize the company (he downsized 10% of the company’s personnel!). McDonald earned an estimated $15.9 million on his final year as P&G’s CEO, before being asked to leave by the company’s board, which claimed the company was not moving fast enough to improve efficiency.
One of McDonald’s main critics was Bill Ackman, a hedge fund investor who said McDonald served on the board of too many organizations to be able to really focus on P&G; those boards presently include Xerox Corporation and U.S. Steel. McDonald also serves as an advisor for several other groups.
While his credentials are mostly about business, the new VA secretary is no stranger to politics. He was appointed by President George W. Bush, and later re-appointed by President Barak Obama, to serve on the U.S. government’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy. And the new secretary’s political loyalty is no secret to anyone; according to the Federal Election Commission records, McDonald has made political campaign contributions in excess of $30,000 to the Republican Party, with half of the contributions going to Mitt Romney’s campaign. He has also contributed to House Speaker John Boehner, who applauded his appointment and called him the right man for the job. The Senate appointed McDonald with a vote of 97-0.
My reading of this bill and appointment is that our government’s response to the veterans’ care crisis is to outsource health treatment to the private sector. Not only is most of the money going to outside personnel and facilities, but the new Chief Executive Secretary has been empowered to fire existing personnel with hardly any appeal’s recourse. And while all this money is going into the hands of a Corporate America Republican darling with no healthcare experience and minimal military service, no one in Congress is speaking about the huge conflict of interest that his several corporate connections will present when handing out billions of dollars to outside private entities and personnel, with near absolute power to fire existing employees and hardly any funds to build new VA facilities.
It is time for the U.S. government to start facing the real crisis in the health care and wellbeing of veterans, which unequivocally points to a mentality and addiction to prevailing war-for-profit policies. Sadly, it seems that rather than learning from this crisis, Washington has decided to turn it into an opportunity to turn the VA into another business venture. Sadder still is that no one in Congress, or in the public at large, is doing or saying anything about it.