One concerns Trump and the makeup of a commission focused on closing VA facilities. The other concerns transferring funding of veterans’ healthcare from VA facilities to private entities.
On Wednesday, Trump signed a law with a provision to establish a commission charged with conducting a nationwide “asset review” of VA infrastructure. If the commission is stacked with advocates of dismantling the VA and privatizing most care, the results could be disastrous. Congress remembers the great power of the base-closing commissions in shutting down military facilities, but at least they were able to vote the recommendations up or down. Not so with this commission; it will be empowered to make final decisions. There are likely to be regional winners and losers, and some decisions may be made to accommodate real estate developers, not veterans.
The make-up of the commission had been a sticking point with veterans groups and lawmakers concerned about the facilities-closing review. In the statute written by Congress, it was required that several members come from traditional veterans service organizations, as well as a private-sector health care administrator, a senior government official with medical management experience, and an asset management expert. No representative of the VA’s own workforce will be included.
The composition of the commission is crucial for Congress because they are handing over tremendous responsibility and authority. In a statement by Trump just hours after signing the bill into law, he limited what he would do to consult with lawmakers in appointing members of an asset review commission. Just consult. He said he will “welcome their input” but says final decisions on who will be on the panel will remain with him. Say hello to the Koch-created Concerned Veterans for America, the major organization demanding privatization no matter what the cost, financial or otherwise.
This is worrisome. If Congress trusted Trump to make sound choices, it would not have written the law the way it did. This is not like appointing officials with executive powers. A facilities closing commission reports to Congress for action. Trump should not be free to make it the Koch Commission.
The second challenge came in a House appropriation bill. The House voted on Thursday to approve the rule for floor debate of an appropriation (the Military Construction – VA bill) to be adopted Friday. That rule for the debate dealt with the problem that Veterans Choice Program, to the vehicle for privatizing veterans health care, continues to burn through billions of dollars. It dealt with the problem by tossing in an extra $1.1 billion.
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