You may not know this, but Congressman Zinke is a veteran. I believe he may have served as a Navy SEAL, though he is so humble about his service it’s hard to know the exact unit he served in. That experience makes it all the harder to understand why today, he decided to tour the grounds of Fort Harrison with another Congressman, one who is the leading voice for the movement to privatize our nation’s veterans’ hospitals and VA health service.
Zinke spent part of the day at the VA at Fort Harrison with Representative Jeff Miller, perhaps the leading voice in Congress for the movement to privatize Veteran health services. As Washington Monthly reported in May, Miller as the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was the central figure in a Koch-backed agenda to privatize veterans care by promoting dishonest stories about the VA. They wrote:
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.
It’s a narrative that the right wing desperately wants to sell. Instead of continuing (and adequately funding) VA services, Republicans and their corporate masters want to overturn the system and put it in the hands of private industry.
Miller also doesn’t believe in protections for workers, using the largely-concocted VA scandal to reduce protections for workers in the VA system. As Montana AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Al Ekblad notes:
“No one wants to see the VA privatized except extremist politicians like Representative Miller who are more concerned with private profits than proper care. We’re shocked that Representative Zinke would be standing with such an out-of-the-mainstream congressman. More importantly, we’re concerned that this may mean our lone voice in the U.S. House of Representatives supports the reckless privatization of VA services, a concept that is opposed by most veterans.”
There is no doubt that the VA could do better. The answer, however, though, lies in adequate funding and decent treatment for the people who provide the services, not a race to the bottom fueled not by a desire to improve patient care, but to improve corporate bottom lines.
It would be nice to imagine that Congressman Zinke used his time on the tour to correct the record with Congressman Miller—and praise the workers who have provided health care for so many at the VA, but I think we all know that’s not what happened today. And that our voice in Congress is less interested in ensuring adequate access to care for our veterans than he is in appeasing the TEA Party extremists who run the modern GOP.