Local veterans demonstrate to keep veterans affairs hospitals open

March 16, 2018

A handful of protesters held signs at the Garden Valley Boulevard entrance to the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center Thursday to express their fear that politicians at the national level are moving to privatize veterans’ health care. These local veterans, members of the Veterans for Peace, believe that would be a disaster for veterans.

Their worry stems from national news reports that VA Secretary David Shulkin may soon be replaced by a proponent of privatizing care provided at VA hospitals like the Roseburg VA.

Reportedly, President Donald Trump is considering Energy Secretary Rick Perry or “Fox and Friends” television personality Pete Hegseth for the role. Hegseth has said on television that he favors moving away from caring for veterans at VA hospitals and instead offering them private care. Hegseth is a former executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, an organization backed by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch.

Most veteran groups oppose privatization.

Rick Staggenborg of Roseburg, a retired VA psychiatrist, said corporate interests are behind the push to privatize as much of the VA as they can, but it’s not good for veterans.

Already, he said, the VA’s choice program, which allows veterans to seek community doctors when VA doctors aren’t readily available, is hurting the VA. Forty percent of veteran patient visits are now in the private sector.

“Think of what that money could do in the VA,” he said.

He said even though it’s a big bureaucracy, the VA still offers more service for less money than the private sector would.

He said it’s an integrated system, and when you start “stripping away the parts, the whole thing falls apart.”

Jim McNulty said he attended Thursday’s demonstration because he’s not excited about the idea of privatizing his care.

“I’m afraid the costs would go up for everyone. That’s what always happens with privatization,” he said.

McNulty, a Navy veteran who served as a radar man during the Vietnam War, recently moved to Roseburg from Reno, Nevada. He said the VA here has treated him very well.

Bob Allen of Roseburg served in the Marine Corps, then trained as a nurse, joined the Army and went to Vietnam.

He gets his care at the Roseburg VA and really appreciates it.

“I would hate to see this VA get a reduction of services or close,” he said.

Michele Avanti of Roseburg, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who served as a sergeant at a chemical and biological warfare base in Utah, said if the VA is privatized, it won’t be good for veterans’ health.

Corporations are only concerned about the bottom line, and will prioritize making money over providing veterans with good care, she said, which is a conflict of interest.

“Veterans are the last people on the planet who should be having to figure out how to pay for their medical care,” she said.