U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the nominee to become the next leader of the VA, told him he opposes privatizing the federal agency, but he will have to convince veterans to earn the senator’s vote for confirmation.
“He said a lot of the right things but to get my vote, to convince me … he needs to earn the trust and support of veterans. We know that simply talking about opposing privatization isn’t enough,” said Brown, D-Ohio.
Brown met Jackson on Tuesday as the VA secretary nominee prepares for a Senate confirmation process. Brown is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
President Donald Trump chose Jackson, the White House physician, after VA Secretary David Shulkin was fired in March.
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Shulkin departed over controversies involving expensive travel, The Associated Press reported.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, Shulkin wrote forces were at work to privatize the agency.
The White House has denied the allegation.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Brown said privatizing the VA would hurt both patients and the VA workforce.
“We know we have work to do to improve the VA, but privatizing isn’t the answer,” he said. “It would deprive veterans of the best possible care. It would hurt the employees of the VA, many of whom are veterans, and it would line the pockets of private corporations.”
Garry Augustine, executive director of the Disabled American Veterans, joined with Brown in speaking out against suggestions to privatize the VA.
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Citing a litany of statistics, Augustine said the VA is best equipped to treat veterans’ specialized needs. Privatizing services would lead to lower quality, less care and higher costs for those the VA treats today, he said.
“Most civilian medical providers are ill equipped to treat veterans,” he said.
Brown said he supported limited efforts to treat veterans in the private sector, such as the VA Choice program. The initative permits patients to seek treatment outside the VA if they need specialized care, have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment, or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
Emily Benavides, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in an email Wednesday the senator would “thoroughly review” Jackson’s nomination and his plans for “reform and improvement.”
“Rob opposes privatizing the VA but certainly supports bipartisan efforts that will continue to improve the quality, flexibility, and timeliness of the care we provide our veterans,” she added.
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The VA treats more than nine million veterans across the nation, including more than 40,000 a year at the Dayton VA Medical Center and its clinics in Springfield, Middletown, Lima and Richmond, Indiana.
Former Dayton VA Director Glenn Costie said in an interview this week with this newspaper it was unclear to him if private health care providers had the capacity to meet veterans needs if the agency was privatized. The VA was best equipped to serve those needs, he added. The Dayton VA spends more than $50 million a year on private health care.
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