“It should not be this hard to serve your country”

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 29, 2018 - 12:21 pm

Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA

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Dr. David Shulkin is out at the VA, but on the way out the door he penned an Op-ed in the New York Times.  In it, Shulkin said, “I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

Connecting Vets has reported on some of the internal struggles that Shulkin has fought recently.  “They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin wrote.  He goes on to say that from his perspective, last year’s legislative victories and improvements at VA have caused insiders to push for privatizing veteran healthcare at a rapid pace.  This has caused confusion at the agency.

“Our local leadership is afraid of making decisions because they don’t know if the direction will change with new leadership,” said a VA employee who asked to remain anonymous.  “There seems to be an undefined fear of what might happen next.  People don’t know where the administration is headed.  We (VA staff) know that privatization is impossible, but we also know that leadership is uncertain.” 

Shulkin seems to understand this. 

“Unfortunately, the department has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agenda instead of what’s best for veterans” continued Shulkin’s Op-ed.  “These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run VA care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.”

The now former Secretary also points out that private sector hospitals already have issues giving care in some areas of the country.  He says they are “ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing VA hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war.”  Connecting Vets has reported on this as well.

Shulkin described the last few months at the agency as, “toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive,” and said that it became impossible to do the work needed for veterans.  He said that while he was proud of his record and he would continue to speak out against those putting their personal agenda in front of the well-being of veterans.

“As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought,” said Shulkin as he ends his time at VA.  “It should not be this hard to serve your country.”