http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/mag...7.php?page=all

In past presidential primaries, when candidates wanted to win the votes of veterans they would trek to American Legion halls and Veterans of Foreign Wars conventions in far corners of Iowa and New Hampshire. While there’s been a little of that in the current primary contest, a new pattern has emerged, at least on the Republican side.
Over the last year, every major GOP candidate with the exception of Donald Trump has made a pilgrimage to gatherings put on by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a group that had barely formed during the 2012 primary cycle. Whereas candidates back in the day were under pressure from the old-line veterans’ groups to promise undying support for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics, the opposite has been true this season. Candidates at CVA rallies have been competing with each other to badmouth the VA and its allegedly shabby treatment of veterans. And all have pledged fealty to the CVA’s goal of moving as many vets as possible out of the VA into private care. Even Trump is calling for more “choice.”
This may not at first hearing seem too surprising. Nearly the whole of the Republican Party has become more radically antigovernment in recent years. And since the spring of 2014, when headlines started appearing about long wait times and cover-ups at some VA hospitals, a strong narrative has built up, including in the mainstream media, that the system is fundamentally broken. A recent front-page headline in the New York Times proclaimed, as if it were a matter of fact, that Bernie Sanders’s support for the VA during the controversy over wait times proved his poor judgment: “Faith in Agency Clouded Bernie Sanders’s V.A. Response.”
Yet beneath the surface of events, a far different, deeper, and more consequential story is unfolding. The CVA, it turns out, is the creation of David and Charles Koch’s network. The Koch family has famously poured hundreds of millions of dollars into think tanks, candidates, and advocacy groups to advance their libertarian views about the virtues of free markets and the evils of governments and unions. Seldom, however, has one of their investments paid off so spectacularly well as it has on the issue of veterans’ health care. Working through the CVA, and in partnership with key Republicans and corporate medical interests, the Koch brothers’ web of affiliates has succeeded in manufacturing or vastly exaggerating “scandals” at the VA as part of a larger campaign to delegitimize publicly provided health care.
The Koch-inspired attacks, in turn, have provided the pretext for GOP candidates to rally behind the cause—only recently seen as fringe—of imposing free market “reforms” on the federal government’s second largest agency. The attacks have also damaged the reputation of the VA among the broader news-consuming public, and, not coincidently, undermined morale within the agency itself. And they succeeded in stampeding bipartisan majorities in Congress into passing legislation in 2014 that under the guise of offering veterans “choice” has instead created a deeply flawed and unworkable process of outsourcing VA care while also setting in motion a commission that seems intent on dismantling VA-provided health care altogether.
All this has been happening, ironically, even as most vets who use the system and all the major veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) applaud the quality of VA health care. Adding to the perverse twists of the story is a mountain of independent evidence, including studies mandated by the 2014 law itself, showing that while the VA has an assortment of serious problems, it continues to outperform the rest of the U.S. health sector on nearly every metric of quality—a fact that ought to raise fundamental questions about the wisdom of outsourcing VA care to private providers.
The long arc of the VA’s place in American life shows that the agency has always struggled against ideological enemies and against commercial health care providers who would stand to gain business from its being privatized. The only hope is that Americans will wake up in time to save the VA from those who are trying to kill it.

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