Obama Warns Against Privatizing The VA

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U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan

As efforts to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs continue, there’s an ongoing debate about the best way to fix a system mired in bureaucracy and haunted by past scandal. While some argue in favor of VA privatization, either in part or in full, others and most recently, the president, are in favor of continued VA reform.


"The notion of dismantling the VA system would be a mistake," said President Barack Obama during a June 2 exclusive interview with The Colorado Springs Gazette. "If you look at, for example, VA health care, there have been challenges getting people into the system. Once they are in, they are extremely satisfied and the quality of care is very high."

The president said attempts to privatize the VA would delay the progress his administration has made toward modernizing the department.

"It's a big ocean liner, and on any given day, given how far-flung the agency is, we're still seeing problems crop up that we have to correct,” said Obama, who spoke to The Gazette’s Megan Schrader while visiting the Air Force Academy in Colorado where the president delivered the commencement speech. “I think the main message is that we've still got a lot of work to do. It's an all-hands-on-deck process."

Related: Should The Government Privatize The VA? »

Currently, the VA does allow for some private care, though it’s limited to specific situations due to the Veterans Access, Choice And Accountability Act, which Obama signed into law in 2014. The bill created the Choice Program which required the VA to contract with private providers if veterans lived more than 40 miles from a VA clinic or had waited longer than 30 days for an appointment. However, the initial launch of the Choice Program was fraught with confusion, with both patients and care providers unclear on the requirements for eligibility.

The subject of whether — and to what extent — veterans are able to obtain health care from private industries has been the subject of contentious partisan debate. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has proposed a new plan that makes the Choice Card universal and permanent, which would allow all disabled veterans to receive care from community doctors, regardless of distance or wait time.

Alternatively, others, including Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana who would rather see VA policy and plans further reformed instead of repealed or replaced by private care.

In May, the Veterans First Act was passed allowing for greater latitude in dealing with bad actors, and safeguards for whistleblowers within the VA, as well as provisions designed to provide patients with greater flexibility.

“The mission for the VA is clear: Make sure veterans can get the care they need in a timely manner,” Tester wrote in an op-ed for Task & Purpose. Tester helped write part of the bill. “With the Veterans First Act, I believe we give the VA the tools it needs to succeed and Congress the tools it needs to ensure the VA keeps its promises.”

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Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Saturday to receive the remains of four Americans killed in a suicide bombing in northern Syria.

Trump, locked in a battle with congressional Democrats that has led to a nearly month-long partial government shutdown, announced his trip via a pre-dawn tweet, saying he was going "to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!"

Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House prior to departure that he planned to meet the families, a duty which he said "might be the toughest thing I have to do as president."

He was greeted by military staff at Dover Air Force Base after a short flight from Joint Base Andrews, but did not speak to reporters before entering his motorcade.

Flanked by military officials, Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan filed up a ramp leading onto a military transport aircraft, where a prayer was given to honor the memory of Scott Wirtz, a civilian Department of Defense employee from St. Louis.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump filed down the plank and saluted while six service members clad in fatigues and white gloves carried an American flag-draped casket carrying Wirtz to a waiting gray van.

The Dover base is a traditional hub for returning the remains of American troops abroad.

The United States believes the attack that killed the Americans was the work of Islamic State militants.

Trump announced last month that he planned to speedily withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, but has since said it does not need to go quickly as he tries to ensure safety of Kurdish allies in northern Syria who are at risk of attack from neighboring Turkey.

Trump told reporters on Saturday that his Syria policy has made progress but that some work remained in destroying Islamic State targets. He defended his plans for a withdrawal.

"It's moving along very well, but when I took over it was a total mess. But you do have to ask yourself, we're killing ISIS for Russia, for Iran, for Syria, for Iraq, for a lot of other places. At some point you want to bring our people back home," he said.

In addition to Wirtz, those who died during the Wednesday attack in Manbij, Syria, were Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, and Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent, 35, identified as being from upstate New York, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

The Pentagon did not identify the fourth person killed, a contractor working for a private company. U.S. media identified her as Ghadir Taher, a 27-year-old employee of defense contractor Valiant Integrated Services.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Writing by Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

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