Kochs’ Concerned Veterans for America Push For Privatization Over Objections Of Veteran Service Organizations

April 12, 2016

The Kochs’ veterans’ “advocacy” group, Concerned Veterans for America, got a seat on the Commission on Care–formed by the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice, And Accountability Act to improve veteran care–despite objections from Veteran Service Organizations. These misgivings were well placed as CVA is now under fire for its role in drafting a  document outside the normal deliberative process of the commission calling for the privatization of VHA services.

The faction of seven commission members dubbed their proposal “The Strawman Document.” Echoing the Kochs’ previous pushes to dismantle the Veteran’s Health Administration, the paper recommends the privatization of veterans’ health services and a “BRAC-like process” of closures for existing VHA infrastructure.

While Concerned Veterans for America and medical industry executives–executives representing businesses that stand to benefit financially from privatization–splintered from the group to meet without the input of other advisers and recommend closure, representatives from groups that actually represent the interests of veterans strongly condemned The Strawman Document’s proposals to privatize veterans’ care. Disabled American Veterans, Veterans Of Foreign Wars Of The United States, The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans Of America, Military Order Of The Purple Heart, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans Of America, And Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America signed onto a letter expressing “grave concerns” with the documents proposals.

Concerned Veterans for America’s hellbent campaign to dismantle the Veterans Health Administration while sidelining groups that represent over 5 million veterans demonstrates that CVA is nothing more but another tool of the Kochs’ insatiable drive to gut government services and expand their influence–even if veterans have to pay the price.

CVA’s Push For Privatization Within The Commission On Care

Commission on Care Background

Navy Times: “The Commission On Care Was Created By The 2014 Veterans Access, Choice And Accountability Act To Make Recommendations On Reorganizing The Veterans Health Administration And Delivering Health Care To Veterans In The Next Two Decades.” According to the Navy Times, “The Commission on Care was created by the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to make recommendations on reorganizing the Veterans Health Administration and delivering health care to veterans in the next two decades.” [Navy Times, 4/11/16]

Veterans Service Organizations Expressed Concerns About The Professional Background Of Many Commissioners, Particularly CVA’s Darin Selnick. According to the Navy Times, “Veterans service organizations expressed concerns about the professional background of many commissioners — at least six come from nonprofit private health care organizations — or, in the case of [Darin] Selnick, played a role in drafting a report released last year by CVA, ‘Fixing Veterans Health Care.’ That report called for consolidating VA medical facilities under a government-chartered nonprofit organization that specializes in service-related health conditions like amputations, traumatic brain injury and combat-related physical and mental injuries, and providing the rest of health care for veterans through a government-subsidized health care program similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan.” [Navy Times, 4/11/16]

Five Commissioners Who Support Ending VA Care Are Republican Appointees Including Concerned Veterans For America’s Darin Selnick. According to the  Daily Republic, “The straw man says the VA health system is so broken there’s ‘no efficient path to repair it.’ It’s a theme often heard from Republican lawmakers, particularly in the House, in hearing after hearing during the past two years. Five commissioners who support ending VA care are Republican appointees including all three named by Boehner before he resigned last year. One of his appointees, Darin Selnick, advises Concerned Veterans for America, a lobby group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers that seeks to cut budgets and responsibilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.” [Daily Republic, 4/3/16]

Strawman Paper

Health Care Journalist And Author Suzanne Gordon: Several Members Of The Commission On Care Including CVA’s Include Darin Selnick Have Been “Secretly Meeting To Draft A Proposal To Totally Eliminate The Veterans Health Administration By 2035 And Turn Its Taxpayer-Funded Functions Over To The Private Sector.” According to a blog post by award-winning health care journalist and author Suzanne Gordon from the American Prospect blog, “Several members of the [Commission on Care] learned that seven of their colleagues had been secretly meeting to draft a proposal to totally eliminate the Veterans Health Administration by 2035 and turn its taxpayer-funded functions over to the private sector. Those commissioners dubbed the plan ‘The Strawman Document.’ The authors of the Strawman Document insist that the VHA is so ‘seriously broken’ that ‘there is no efficient path to repair it.’ Although the commission’s work is supposed to be data-driven and done by the all the commissioners together, the faction meeting independently of the full commission has ignored many of the studies that indicated that treatment at the VHA is often better and more cost-effective than the care available in the private sector. It is not surprising that the Strawman group has chosen to ignore this research—its members have a vested interest in dismantling the VHA. The Strawman authors include Darin S. Selnick, a part-time employee of the Koch-funded group Concerned Veterans for America, as well as Stewart M. Hickey, a former leader of Amvets, a group that broke away from a coalition of large veterans service organizations because of its support for Concerned Veterans’  interest in dismantling  the VHA.” [Suzanne Gordon – American Prospect blog, 3/25/16]

The Strawman Document Has “Proposed Shutting Down All VA Medical Centers And Outpatient Services, And Having Its Nine Million Enrollees Get Their Medical Care In The Private Sector.” According to the  Daily Republic, “Seven of 15 outside health advisers appointed to recommend ways to improve veterans’ health services over the next two decades have proposed shutting down all VA medical centers and outpatient services, and having its nine million enrollees get their medical care in the private sector. The 34-page ‘straw man’ document released by the congressionally-created Commission on Care, calls for an immediate halt to construction of new VA hospitals and clinics, and launch of a ‘BRAC-like process’ to begin closing existing facilities. Shuttering the largest medical system in the country would leave the VA to be ‘primarily a payor’ for the care veterans would receive from civilian community doctors and health facilities.” [Daily Republic, 4/3/16]

  • Commissioners Behind The Strawman Document Included “Darin Selnick, The Senior Veterans Affairs Advisor For Concerned Veterans For America.”According to Military.com, “Commissioners behind the straw man document are David Blom, former president of OhioHealth’s central Ohio hospitals; Dr. Toby Cosgrove, chief executive officer of The Cleveland Clinic; retired Rear Adm. (Dr.) Joyce Johnson, formerly with the US Public Health Service and a former surgeon general of the US Coast Guard; Darin Selnick, the Senior Veterans Affairs Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America; retired Marine Gen. Martin Steele, associate vice president for Veterans Research, executive director of Military Partnerships, and co-chair of the Veterans Reintegration Steering Committee at the University of South Florida in Tampa; Dr. Marshall Webster, senior vice president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; and retired Marine Corps Maj. Stewart Hickey, national director of AMVETS and former CEO for the Hyndman Area Health Center, Pa.” [Military.com, 4/2/16]

Veteran Service Organization Opposition

Eight Groups Drafted A Joint Letter Opposing The Strawman Proposals To Privatize Veterans’ Health Care: Veterans Service Organizations Including Disabled American Veterans, Veterans Of Foreign Wars Of The United States, The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans Of America, Military Order Of The Purple Heart, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans Of America, And Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America. According to the Joint VSO Letter to the Commission on Care accessed via a Disabled American Veterans web post, Veterans Service Organizations including DAV (Disabled American Veterans), Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America drafted a join letter expressing their concern with the Commission on Care and their strawman document which proposed “to privatize veterans’ health care and completely eliminate all VA health care treatment facilities within the next twenty years.” [Joint VSO Letter to the Commission on Care, 4/1/16]

Acting Executive Director At Paralyzed Veterans Of America Sherman Gillums Jr. Said The Strawman Document Was Alarming And “Insidious” Because “There Are Some Who Are Set On Doing This Without Input From The Veterans Community…This Is Their Total Blueprint For Privatizing The VA.” According to Arizona Central, “Some members of the VA Commission on Care last month issued a so-called ‘Strawman Document’ asserting that the Veterans Health Administration ‘is seriously broken and, because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it.’ […] Sherman Gillums Jr., acting executive director at Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the minority paper is alarming because ‘there are some who are set on doing this without input from the veterans community. … This is their total blueprint for privatizing the VA.’ Gillums referred to the proposal as ‘insidious’ and said he believes it would hurt disabled veterans.” [Arizona Central, 4/1/16]

National Director Of Veterans Affairs And Rehabilitation For The American Legion Louis Celli Said He Was “Angered And Insulted” By The Strawman Proposal. According to Arizona Central, “Louis Celli, national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, said he was ‘angered and insulted’ by the proposal. He said the commission is now ‘absolutely divided’ and that the Strawman Document was ‘a shot across the bow’ for those who want to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs. ‘My fear is if you privatize care, then the result will be less services and more expensive care for veterans in the future,’ he added.” [Arizona Central, 4/1/16]

Acting Executive Director At Paralyzed Veterans Of America Sherman Gillums Jr. Noted That The Strawman Document Resembles A Proposal By Concerned Veterans For America. According to Arizona Central, “[Sherman] Gillums referred to the proposal as ‘insidious’ and said he believes it would hurt disabled veterans. He and Gordon noted that the Strawman Document resembles a proposal by Concerned Veterans for America, an organization that receives funding from the Koch brothers, conservative billionaires known for their ‘dark money’ political contributions. Commission on Care member Darin Selnick, who helped write the proposal, is a consultant with CVA and a former VA employee. He declined comment for this story.” [Arizona Central, 4/1/16]

Disabled American Veterans Executive Director Garry Augustine: Veterans Service Organizations Sense That The Commissioners Who Drafted The Strawman Are Pushing To Implement It According to the Navy Times, “Disabled American Veterans executive director Garry Augustine said the strawman is similar to the content of the CVA assessment and that veterans services organizations sense that the commissioners who drafted the strawman are pushing to implement it. ‘There was a lot of discussion leading up to this document that makes us believe the people who put this together are very serious about pushing this agenda,’ Augustine said. [Navy Times, 4/11/16]

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation