The "VA Mission Act" may be a means to cut the VA budget
On the rare occasions that President Trump has a piece of successful legislation to sign into law, the old reality show star makes the most of it. There’ll be an elaborate ceremony with live TV coverage and much uplifting talk about how the new law will be the salvation of its beneficiaries shown smiling in the background. So it was with the “VA Mission Act,” which got the Rose Garden treatment.
As usual, when the lights and cameras went dark, more sober reflection began about how the new law would affect existing Veterans Administration operations and programs. Some persons familiar with Trump’s lifelong practice of pitching big, expensive projects and then not being around to write a check for costs were skeptical.
According to Shareblue Media’s Tommy Christopher, “The night of the bill signing, Trump quietly released a statement objecting to three oversight provisions of the law, saying he would not treat them as mandatory. Several veterans’ groups expressed concern about the statement.
Trump’s White House also circulated a memo to Congress objecting to a Senate plan to pay for the Mission Act, arguing the law ought to be funded by spending cuts to other programs.”
In other words, as been done with numerous government entities under this administration, vital ongoing programs can be stripped of funding to support the new ‘mission’ which many believe is to drive privatization of the VA.
Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven of Washington Monthly saw it this way. “After Trump signed the VA Mission Act into law, it entered the guardianship of the executive branch. Immediately, the White House began backtracking on some of the law’s requirements, and now advocates are worried that key statutes could be misinterpreted or implemented so to further the conservative fever dream in which the only choice left for veterans seeking health care is the private sector.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been working behind the scenes to scuttle bipartisan efforts to fund the Mission Act’s expansive new programs—which Trump claims to support. A White House memo circulated in Congress during the drafting process asserted that Trump would not support the expansion of one key program “without further engagement with Congress on fiscal constraints.” It went on to say that new spending on private care should be offset by other agency cuts.”
The concern of vets that there’s an ongoing move to privatize the VA did not start with the Trump administration but many fear it’s accelerating.
Jose San Agustin
Guam Veterans Affairs Officer Jose San Agustin is trying to keep an optimistic view of what’s going on nationally with the VA. The Choice program, recently implemented, which steers vets toward private physicians if direct VA care is not immediately available raised some of the same concerns, namely, that instead of adding new facilities and staff tuned into vet concerns it’s a stealthy effort to eventually privatize the VA. San Agustin cautiously says that with some adjustments in funding, Choice seems to be working for many Guam vets, but the more he learns about the VA Mission Act, the more concerns he has:
“It’s going to impact a lot of direct patient care, suicide prevention, some of the medical research, some job trainings and many other vital programs that are already in place and that’s the hard part to swallow. We were hoping that some of the smarter folks and advisors under the president and our senate, our congress are looking at all these obstacles before making that solid decision. I think what happened here is that while the intention is really all good, that they might have jumped the gun… They’re going to take funding from one source within a VA program to fund this huge initiative.”
San Agustin says the changes produced by the VA Mission Act and other tinkering in Washington are somewhat beyond the control of the local veteran community, though he is hopeful that between the Guam government and Guam Delegate to the U.S. Congress, they can be kept on track.
“It’s very difficult for even the best lawmaker because it deals a lot with funding, but it really deals a lot with scrutinizing what it is that is vital to our veterans community. We all know health care and we can’t forget that suicide is out there. Happens every day. So I hope and I trust and I continue to pray for them as I do pray for myself that if our leaders in Washington are not able to take care of our veterans here in the island of Guam, that the local government can step up and say, ‘let’s help with the funding to take care of a veteran who at this time doesn’t have the money for a trip to the states or care for their health.”