Republicans ignored an outcry from veterans groups and tried to cut their benefits to fund a privatized health care program. Democrats put their votes together and stopped them.
A Republican attempt to move money from the public veterans health care system into a privatized program was thwarted by Democrats, who listened to a coalition of veterans groups that opposed it while the GOP ignored them.
House Republicans were trying to move money from existing Veterans Administration programs to shore up the Veterans Affairs Choice Program, which lets veterans use their benefits within the private medical system, and not just VA facilities. The VA Choice program is currently experiencing a $2 billion shortfall.
A coalition of top veterans groups spoke out in opposition to the Republican plan. They include Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and AMVETS.
In a joint letter, the groups said, "We oppose legislation that includes funding only for the 'choice' program which provides additional community care options, but makes no investment in VA and uses 'savings' from other veterans benefits or services to 'pay' for the 'choice' program." They added, "If new funding is directed only or primarily to private sector 'choice' care without any adequate investment to modernize VA, the viability of the entire system will soon be in danger."
At the VFW's national convention, national commander Brian Duffy said the plan "would violate the campaign promise that President Trump told our convention a year ago — a promise that the VA system would remain a public system because it is a public trust." PBS reported that members in the convention hall could be heard shouting "No" to the plan.
Republicans ignored them.
The measure required 2/3 of the votes in the House to ensure passage. It failed, with a vote of 219-186. Only 4 Republicans listened to the veterans and voted against it, while among Democrats 182 voted against it, with only 2 voting in favor.
Created in 2014 as a temporary fix for problems within the VA, the choice program has become the trojan horse for a Republican backdoor attempt to privatize veteran care. Donald Trump's proposed budget increases the money in VA Choice, a move that veterans groups expressed alarm over.
Charles Schmidt, national commander of the American Legion, called it "a ‘stealth’ privatization attempt which The American Legion fully opposes." Speaking about the program, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said, "We want to strengthen the VA. What we don’t want to do is dismantle the VA piece by piece and put that money into the Choice Program."
Trump and his congressional allies in the Republican Party have repeatedly targeted veterans as part of their conservative agenda. Their ideology has pushed them to ignore veterans' pleas for help, and all signs indicate that they will continue to do so.