President Donald Trump hands a pen to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie during a spending bill signing ceremony at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Associated Press/Evan Vucci)

The Trump administration wants to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans' hospitals to private health care providers. That's true even though earlier this year the administration vehemently denied it would privatize any part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The privatization of essential government services is nothing new, of course. Over the years, countries have privatized dozens of services and activities that were once the sole domain of governments, such as the provision of electricity and water, road operations and prisons and even health care, with the ostensible aim of making them more efficient.

But before going down that road, the question needs to be asked whether privatizing essential human services such as those for military veterans serves the public interest. New research we recently published suggests that privatization may come at a social cost.

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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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And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

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For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

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U.S. Marine Corps/Department of Veterans Affaiirs

ST. PETERSBURG — On Dec. 10, retired Marine Col. Jim Turner put on his dress uniform and medals and drove to the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs complex. He got out of his truck, sat down on top of his military records and took his own life with a rifle.

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In a 1995 tribute to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, current Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie attempted to reinvent history to make the South – which started the Civil War to keep millions of slaves in chains – was the victim of Northern aggression.

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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on ProPublica.

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