In this June 6, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump holds up the "VA Mission Act of 2018" that he signed during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Associated Press/Susan Walsh)

As the Trump administration prepares to launch a controversial program to expand private medical care for veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs is developing a software tool to determine who's eligible.

But the tool is so flawed, according to an independent review obtained by ProPublica, that it threatens to disrupt the health care of about 75,000 veterans every day.

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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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Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

The son of a soldier wounded during the Vietnam War, he claims he was born in “khaki diapers.” Now, former Department of Defense under secretary for personnel and readiness Robert Wilkie seems poised to wade into the mess that is the Department of Veterans Affairs  — and, if all goes according to plan, restore good order and discipline to the troubled agency.

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AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Last June, during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., declared that there were no serious legislative proposals on the table to enrich or ensure the quality of care at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She noted that the only bills in play would further weaken the agency by steering more dollars, and veterans, into the private healthcare market.

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U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Stephen Wright

All last summer, lawmakers on Capitol Hill scrambled to find more than $2 billion in emergency funding to keep the Department of Veterans Affairs’ top private-provider referral program from going bankrupt. After a few misfires and rounds of recriminations, that funding came through last month.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By most accounts, Dr. David J. Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, is a reasonable man thrust into an impossible situation.

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