Dr. David Shulkin has been pushed aside (read fired) as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”). Without taking sides in what appears to be yet another partisan issue, Dr. Shulkin did a reasonably good job in bailing water in a sinking ship: the VA.
As such, it was with regret that we read Dr. David Shulkin’s self-serving departure editorial in the New York Times “it should not be this hard to serve your country.” Indeed, many Veterans poorly served by the VA have felt the same. But these Veterans, with a legitimate claim were rarely afforded space in the editorial section of the New York Times to discuss their grievances.
The title of the New York’s editorial says it all: “David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans“. I am not sure that Dr. Shulkin would have titled his departure editorial this way, but clearly, the New York Times, David Shulkin and J. David Fox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, agree that privatizing the VA will harm Veterans.
SFTT is unaware of any compelling evidence that providing “privatized” care to Veterans would jeopardize the mission of the VA or add to the difficulties of Veterans. Indeed, J. David Fox, seems more concerned about the rights of unionized VA employees than he does about Veterans.
While it is easier to frame the discussion as a debate about the merits of public or private healthcare, SFTT has long argued that the VA is simply Too Big to Succeed. It never has been a question of “ownership” or “control,” it is simply a case of an institution that has become too large to manage effectively. With over 18 million Veterans, it is unlikely that an overwhelming majority would agree that the VA is provides services that are “second to none.”
In fact, Dr. Shulkin claims that “the percent of veterans who have regained trust in V.A. services has risen to 70 percent, from 46 percent four years ago. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement on how well the VA is fulfilling its mission.
There are many areas of the VA that fulfill President Abraham Lincoln’s promise: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.
But there are other areas in which the VA fell well short of fulfilling President Lincoln’s promise.
Specifically, SFTT has for years called into question the way the VA has treated Veterans with PTSD and TBI: “the silent wounds of war.” There is compelling evidence that the VA, through its administrators, has consistently lied to Veterans, their caregivers, Congress and the public on the effectiveness of treating Veterans with brain injury.
More to the point, the VA medical staff has been grossly negligent in providing Veterans with opioids to treat the symptoms of PTSD and TBI rather than offer any real treatment. Was the VA complicit in fueling the opioid epidemic?
Political posturing on the benefits of public or private ownership doesn’t really help the hundreds of thousands of Veterans suffering from brain injury and their largely forgotten caregivers.
Changing of the guard will do little to fix the VA. Only a true bipartisan effort to address the problems of the VA will help restore confidence in an institution with far greater promise than the actual results it delivers.
Thank you for your service Dr. Shulkin.