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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steve Hoffman: Congress abandons veterans just before Memorial Day

Steve Hoffman

Members of Congress were in their districts this Memorial Day, giving speeches about how much they appreciate the sacrifices of service members. But their constituents should take their fine words with more than a grain of salt. Just five days before the holiday, the U.S. Senate passed a measure that will set Veterans Affairs on the road toward privatization and severely undermine veterans’ health care.

Congress sent the VA MISSION Act to the president on May 23. The act funnels dollars to the private, for-profit sector. It will promote outsourcing of care now received at the VA, and it will allow a private, corporate-style commission to decide which VA facilities to close.

There were only five senators who voted against this scam masquerading as reform of the VA. Shamefully, our senators from Washington state, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, voted for it.

As a U.S. Navy veteran and a socialist, I am outraged that both parties in Congress continually vote to authorize, and fund indefinitely, one war after another serving U.S. business interests around the world. I am also incensed that when soldiers return home suffering from PTSD, brain injuries and sexual assault, they are thrown under the bus by a Congress that puts corporate profits above quality health care for veterans.

The VA specializes in providing care for the injuries and health conditions caused by war. Closing VA centers and forcing veterans into private facilities that have no experience in treating such conditions will be a disaster. Currently there are 49,000 staff vacancies at VA centers across the country. It’s high time to fill those vacancies, expand services, and forget about privatization!

Leading up to this scheme to make the VA a profit center, the Trump administration has been going after the agency’s workforce. Executive orders have severely undermined VA workers’ union rights and made it much easier to fire them, with the resulting staffing shortages. The dedicated federal employees who care for veterans, 120,000 of whom are veterans themselves, need union protections. Only with such safeguards can they raise concerns, without fear of retaliation, about how the VA serves its mission. It was these workers, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, who initially sounded the alarm about long wait times for care at the VA. They have been strongly supported by Veterans for Peace.

Many decry the ponderous bureaucracy at the VA, including its own staff. The best way to make the agency function more efficiently and do right by veterans is to consult with the front-line workers, who care so much about their patients and deliver quality care every day, in spite of the obstacles. Staff and veterans should be put in charge of driving positive changes at the VA.

It is time to demand that the current crop of millionaires in Congress stop attacking the VA, repeal the VA Mission Act, and make sure that the institution serves the welfare of veterans, not the corporate bottom line.

Steve Hoffman is the Freedom Socialist Party candidate for U.S. Senate. He is also the recording secretary for the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304 and a delegate to the M. L. King County Labor Council.