Bernie Sanders

Sanders' and Clinton's Deflections on Veterans' Health Care Should Scare Voters

No real solutions from people who complain about 'privatization.'


"What, people died because of VA mismanagement? BUT KOCH BROTHERS!"

Hillary Clinton's line of attack against Bernie Sanders and his democratic socialist fantasies of what he'd do as president is that she'll be the one who actually gets things done, meaning that Sanders cannot possibly ever implement his extremely expensive taxes and government expansions. It's a smart response (though I doubt Clinton will be much more successful).

Clinton had an opportunity in last night's debate to jump on a real-world example of Sanders' failure to actually fix problems—the terrible disaster that is the medical system as run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.). The scandal that unfolded in 2014 while Sanders was chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee highlighted everything Americans fear about government-run health care: long waits, an apathetic bureaucracy, corruption within the system, government employees cashing in and getting bonuses while the customers they were supposed to be serving died, and ultimately a significant failure to hold people accountable for what happened.

Sanders' response to the crisis has been lackluster and last night was no different. But Clinton, rather than zeroing in on this serious failure in Sanders resume, ran to his side and helped deflect attention away from the crisis by complaining about "privatization."

Actually, moderator Rachel Maddow gets some of the blame as well. The way she decided to ask the question about dealing with the V.A. crisis seemed deliberately designed to allow the candidates to redirect it to complain about Republican or conservative responses:

Secretary Clinton, I want to ask you about a national security issue that is closer to home. There are thousands of veterans, over 100,000 veterans living in the state of New Hampshire.

If either one of you is nominated as the Democratic Party's nominee, you will likely face a Republican opponent in the general election who wants to privatize or even abolish big parts of the V.A. It's a newly popular idea in conservative politics.

How will you win the argument on that issue given the problems that have been exposed at the V.A. in the last few years? What's your argument that the V.A. should still exist and should not be privatized?

"Abolish big parts of the V.A." is nonsense, but it lets both Clinton and Sanders partly dodge the problem. Here's Clinton's terrible response:

Well, first of all, I'm absolutely against privatizing the V.A. And I am going do everything I can to build on the reforms that Senator Sanders and others in Congress have passed to try to fix what's wrong with the V.A.

There are a lot of issues about wait times and services that have to be fixed because our veterans deserve nothing but the best.

But you're absolutely right, you know, Rachel, this is another part of the Koch brothers agenda. They've actually formed an organization to try to begin to convince Americans we should no longer have guaranteed health care, specialized care for our veterans.

I will fight that as hard as I can. I think there's where we can enlist the veterans service organizations, the veterans of America, because, yes, let's fix the V.A., but we will never let it be privatized, and that is a promise.

What's absurd about Clinton's answer is that she thinks that having government in control of providing healthcare to veterans means that the care is "guaranteed," when the whole scandal was that, in fact, the government employees were not providing the care and had managed to somehow incentivize lying about it so as to get bonuses. There isn't guaranteed health care for veterans now.

Maddow then shifted to Sanders, given his role on veterans issues in the Senate, and softballed a question about working on a bipartisan solution and whether that was the right thing to do (as if there would be another way for Congress to approach the problem). He agreed and then added:

Secretary Clinton is absolutely right, there are people, Koch brothers among others, who have a group called Concerned Veterans of America, funded by the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers, by the way, want to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every governmental program passed since the 1930s. Yes, there are people out there who want to privatize it.

The last point that I'd make. I had a hearing. I had all of the veterans groups in front of me. And I said to them, tell me when a veteran gets in to the V.A., understanding there are waiting lines and real problems, when a veteran gets into the system, is the quality of care good?

Without exception, what they said, good, excellent, very good. We've got to strengthen the V.A. We do not privatize the V.A.

Veterans organizations themselves do not seem to see Sanders the way he sees himself. Tim Mak at The Daily Beast takes note that at least one veterans group saw Sanders as dragging his feet on concerns about the agency, only acting once the scandal became national news:

He held one-sixth of the hearings on oversight that his House of Representatives counterpart held. Republicans griped that they had made multiple requests for more oversight hearings, but received no response. A news host even challenged Sanders as the scandal erupted, saying he sounded more like a lawyer for the VA than the man responsible for overseeing it.

"We feel that he did not live up to his responsibilities as SVAC chairman to provide oversight into this. He keeps hiding behind the mantle [of the title]. And yes, he did pass the $15 billion piece of legislation, but that's… akin to closing the barn door after the chickens have escaped," said Matthew Miller, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

By the time the scandal broke, Sanders had been chairman for more than a year. While the House VA committee held 42 hearings on VA oversight, the Senate VA committee chaired by Sanders held only about seven hearings on the matter.

"The House needed a partner in the Senate to help flesh out the problems at the VA, and unfortunately Bernie Sanders was not that partner. Jeff Miller and his committee were the ones who pursued this and ultimately uncovered [the VA scandal]… only when the VA scandal broke was when [Sanders] ultimately decided to do oversight hearings," Caldwell said.

As for blaming the Koch brothers and the Concerned Veterans for America, Clinton and Sanders are flailing away at a straw man. The report put out by Concerned Veterans for America (read here) actually calls for preserving the Veterans Health Administration hospitals, but calls for veterans to be able to choose where to get their treatment. It's not "privatization" so much as liberation. Shouldn't veterans have the same medical choices as the rest of us?

Frankly it's telling that neither of them actually say anything truly substantive about the problems with veterans care other than that it needs to be improved in some fashion (and Sanders' solution that he fought so hard for was to throw money at the problem, which hasn't changed much). Sanders even remains dismissive about the extent there's an actual problem. These are two people who want to have more government involvement in civilian health care and they seem, frankly, in utter denial about the extent of the problems with the health care the government is already responsible for.

ReasonTV interviewed Concerned Veterans for America's Dan Caldwell in 2014 as the healthcare crisis was unfolding. Watch below:

(Full disclosure: David Koch sits on the Board of Trustees for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this site.)

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  1. “Privatization” is immoral because profits!

    1. Privitization is immoral because “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

      1. Government is infallible and omnibenevolent (unless we’re talking about identity politics or Team Red’s foreign policy), so anyone who wants to take anything away from government is a heartless monster.

      2. It is immoral because when government provides a service, it is because that service is a basic right. Can’t allow rich people to profit from providing things that are basic rights. That is immoral.

        1. That is it exactly. Profiting off of someone else in their time of need is exploitative and wrong. It’s much better that people have less of an incentive to help in the first place.

          1. Profits are the price you pay for efficiency. That is why government is the least efficient means of getting anything done. But people who don’t understand incentives can’t understand this. They feel that incentives (or anything else for that matter) can only exist if they are backed up with real threats of violence. That is why they want everything done by government, because government can make such threats.

            1. That is a great observation and people are cool with it, so long as those threats are directed at the “bad” people.

          2. I need gas and the government makes a lot of profit from gas.

            Government has a 30-40% gross profit margin on gas, IIRC.

            1. But those profits serve the public interest, because government serves the public interest. Democracy cleanses all.

    2. Privatization is the path of fascism! We all know that fascists privatized everything because they’re corporatist! Don’t you see the word corporation in there?

  2. long waits, an apathetic bureaucracy, corruption within the system, government employees cashing in and getting bonuses while the customers they were supposed to be serving died, and ultimately a significant failure to hold people accountable for what happened.

    In other words, business as usual. Why would either of these hacks be in any way interested in changing a good thing? Inefficiency, graft, and a protected class of reliable Democratic voters is precisely what they’re after.

  3. Privatization is a slippery slope.

    Next thing you know, the budget might shrink.

  4. I thought that the VA already had been privatized. Right-thinking people tell me that everything wrong with health care in this country is the fault of market failure and the absence of single-payer.

    1. During the recent scandal, they did begin to privatize. They began to offer to pay for private care to deal with the backlog. Shame it took the exposure of people dying on waiting lists for a common sense solution.

      1. I believe even prior to that they had vouchers for vets who would have had to travel too far to get to a VA facility.

        Should we stop that program, Bernie and Hillary?

    2. And for that reason alone, I’d be happy to offer to let Bernie and his supporters on the VA care roles. On the sole condition that they agree never to avail themselves of private medical care.

    3. I think you’re think of the Veterans’ Choice program that in theory allows veterans to see care providers if the VA cannot schedule care within 3 weeks. I think 3 weeks anyhow. The VA has to authorize use, I’ve never heard of a case being approved; the majority of my time is spent around veterans.

      1. I don’t know all the particulars. I simply received a call for an appointment I had scheduled for months to ask if I wanted to see a private provider after the scandal broke.

  5. This seems like as good a place as any to draw attention to what looks like coordination in the progressive press. I think most people here are aware of the scandal on that issue, but just look at two articles from the past day:

    The sexist double standard behind why millennials love Bernie Sanders

    Compared to Slate’s piece: One Secret to Bernie Sanders’ Success? He’s Not a Woman.

    1. pajiba too.

      And the flurry of Berniebro nonsense…

    2. One of the best parts of reading articles like those is how much the authors project their own biases and partisanship and desires on everyone else. It’s like the concept of even attempting to write an unbiased or impersonal story never occurs to them. These aren’t news articles. They’re blog posts.

      You know, I wonder why readership is plummeting.

    3. Deploying Lena didnt work. Neither did shout-outs from Beyonc, Kim, Ilana and Abbi, Ariana, Katy, Demi or either of the Amys .

      People not being convinced by a female candidate running out female pop stars as endorsements is a sign of misogyny? Really? And yet only trotting out female endorsements isn’t a sign of misandry?

      1. OK, I know Beyonce and Lena, but huh? Kim Kardashian? Demi Moore? Or Demi Levato? Which Amys? Last names, people, we aren’t all on a first name basis with vapid celebrities.

        1. If you don’t know who they are, they didn’t write the article for you, so they don’t care. It’s a little like Latin being used in the Catholic Church long after no one spoke it.

  6. a national security issue

    How is it a national security issue?

    1. I wondered that myself.

      1. Oh, probably because Republicans are terrorists trying to destroy the VA. Duh. Forget I asked.

          1. So, you see John Brown as a terrorist.

            Figures a slaver like you wouldn’t much care for him.

        1. It’s that people thinking of volunteering for our armed forces, if they knew that following their service they would be left on the ice flows to fend for themselves – would go to trade school and leave our ruling class to fend FOR themselves.

    2. Veterans who don’t get treatment are liable to become dangerous extremists, obviously. Veterans with PTSD are a danger. It’s been a subtle meme from the left throughout the Obama years.

      1. Maybe the people in charge should stop sending them needlessly into combat then.

  7. But Clinton, rather than zeroing in on this serious failure in Sanders resume, ran to his side and helped deflect attention away from the crisis

    Of course she did. It’s as much an indictment of her philosophy as his.

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    1. Really, Alissi? I can’t type in pinyin or even include a grave accent on a French word but this Wingdings shit still gets through the filter? Really?

      1. The spambot has skillz, HM.

    2. Dude, if you want to find suckers, you need to go where the #BernVictims hang out.


    1. The Koch bro hate is more amazing to behold than BDS ever was. He mentions their names 3 times in the span of about 30 words! The desperate attempt to deflect attention from a perfect, real world example of EVERYTHING small govt advocates warn about is fascinating

    2. Is that “Kochl or “kooch”?

    3. Capitalist puritans: The Koch brothers are pushing pure economic liberty as the only road to true prosperity ? to the detriment of all but the rich
      Campaign finance reform is a hot topic this election, and the Kochs’ ideology is a threat to that progressive turn
      They spelled KKKapitalist wrong !!….._the_rich/

  11. ROFLMAO. Are you fucking kidding me, dude? Hillary Clinton wouldn’t give a flying crap if every veteran died this instant. She would probably be thrilled! She detests the military and veterans with every strand of her DNA.

    1. Without the military, how is she going to fight her wars in the Middle East and North Africa?

      1. Oh trust me, I know that she sees the military as dumb useful pawns, and isn’t a bit afraid to use them that way when they suit her. Naturally, she’ll also expect them to be at her beck and call when she needs someone to carry her bags and such, but that’s as far as the “relationship” goes.

      2. She still loathes them. Like, there are stories of her wanting marines at the White House to remove their uniforms and wear suits because she hated seeing them around, and she treats her Secret Service detail with complete disdain.

        1. Back when Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, the wife of one of my HS teachers worked as a nanny for J. B. Hunt and the teacher did odd jobs for him. Hunt was a friend of Bill Clinton’s, so the Hunts (along with my teacher’s wife and sometimes the teacher, too) would be at each other’s house. My teacher reports that Hillary Clinton was quite disdainful of “the help” back then.

          1. Bitch ought to be sitting in a prison cell wearing one of those drab gray dresses female inmates used to be issued.

            1. Clinton, that is. (where’s the edit button?)

  12. The scandal that unfolded in 2014 while Sanders was chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee

    1. It was and is sickening how that story was buried by the press. Obama ran in 2012 on having cleaned up the VA. You know, personally. Then the media dutifully expunged him of all blame when the shit hit the fan.
    2. It’s even worse that now Sanders, champion of government-run-everything, isn’t even tied to it despite his position to actually impact the problem and his goal to give the government control over everyone’s healthcare. You won’t see anyone tie Bernie to the VA scandal.
    3. Military are the only federal employees are the only ones the left couldn’t give two shits about. Probably because they can’t be unionized. The left has utter contempt for veterans.
    4. Privatization is already happening in the VA organically as a response to these scandals.

  13. Actually, moderator Rachel Maddow gets some of the blame as well.

    Surprise, surprise, surprise. Who in God’s creation decided putting a partisan editorialist as moderator was a good idea? Maybe the next GOP debate can be moderated by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

  14. Actually, moderator Rachel Maddow gets some of the blame as well.

    Surprise, surprise, surprise. Who in God’s creation decided putting a partisan editorialist as moderator was a good idea? Maybe the next GOP debate can be moderated by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

    1. partisan editorialist as moderator

      Trying to imagine The Jacket as moderator?

    2. I saw on some news show this morning that Maddow hugged both Clinton and Sanders after the debate was over. I try to imagine her hugging Trump or Cruz but it’s just not coming. I can well imagine if a Fox moderator hugged GOP candidates it would be regarded as a “scandal”.

    3. Maddow threw softballs to liberals? Color me surprised.

  15. The latest meme on Facebook, via Occupy Democrats, is that no matter who gets the nomination, the Democratic candidate will be 100 times better than the Republican candidate.

    TEAMS!!! Now, with math!!!

    1. Latest?

      I’ve been seeing that for months!

    2. they fucking love science, man

  16. One of the strongest arguments Team Red could have made during 2010 was to point out how horrible the VA system functions and show that we currently do single payer for vets and it sucks. They could also point out that Americans are sympathetic to vets, so getting additional funding is not as problematic as for programs benefiting the average (non-GI) Joe. Of course, Team Stupid….

    1. It’s not really clear to me that would work. The obvious response is that we’re just not spending enough money on our single payer. And the answer is to dramatically increase funding. Paid for by somebody else, of course.

      1. You have to stand in awe at the degree to which the general public just accepts the basic premise of the left. I wish we could get some of that.

      2. That’s exactly what did happen.

    2. In 2010, leftists were holding up the VA as an example of ‘socialism’ or government healthcare that works. Obama himself did it, if I”m not mistaken, but also a shit ton of leftist pundits. They pointed to surveys that supposedly indicated that veterans loved their healthcare (while simultaneously ignoring higher rates of satisfaction among the general public towards their current healthcare).

      1. The last defense of the VA I read was that they are doing cutting-edge research. Which may well be true (although I thought that was what the NIH was for?), but does fuck-all good for the day-to-day medical needs of Veterans. Also, they have good cancer survival rates; but so does the country as a whole and cancer is hardly a problem unique to or specifically affecting veterans.

        1. although I thought that was what the NIH was for?

          According to my leftist friends, that’s the CDC’s job which Congress isn’t letting them do.

          1. Budget cuts, the boogeyman that causes every problem.

          2. What? Morons.

      2. I remember when leftists held up Baltimore as the shining success story of progressive urban policy. It’s good to have access to the memory hole.

      3. My grandfather (WWII veteran) had VA healthcare? my parents talked about getting a lawyer to sue the VA to do the medical procedures he needed done back in the 1990s.

        1. Good luck with that. Those fuckers can hardly be touched.

    3. In 2010, the metrics were still fully gamed, so the waiting times looked great!

      Except for those on the secret ones.

      Krugman brought the VA up as a model, too.

      Now, here’s the kicker folks: let’s say we fully voucherized the VA. It would still be single payer.

      So, why does the Left oppose it?

      1. They don’t want single payer. Any progressive who uses that term is using it incorrectly. They want government-produced, because they believe that private producers are evil and take advantage of everyone. Same reason they don’t want vouchers for school.

  17. If care is so good that VA, they will have no fear from voucherization.

    If there are specific specialist facilities dealing with brain trauma, that would somehow be affected, we can top those up with funds.

    But the Phoenix VA that had trouble was the cardiology department. If that went away, and vets with heart troubles went to a private facility, there would be no issue.

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  20. Looks like a kiss-smooch-smooch-fest between Hillary-Bob and Bernie falling all over each other and praising Government-run health care and a hate-fest against the EVIL Koch brothers…

    Ignoring all the hymns and rituals, can we summarize liberal theology as follows? Government Almighty is God, and the two Koch brothers are, respectively, Satan and the Anti-Christ?

    Is this an accurate summary?

    1. Oh, and, to complete the above picture…

      Hillary-Bob and Bernie agree on all the above… Except Hillary-Bob says that SHE is Jesus, while Bernie says that HE is Jesus, is all that they disagree on…

      1. its such a small field I think theyre more worried about pissing off the other one’s supporters than standing out from the crowd.

  21. So, in other words, they have nothing better to offer, save shoving everyone into he same system, but they’ll gladly bitch about anyone with better ideas.

    I see why they find politics appealing.

  22. “Actually, moderator Rachel Maddow gets some of the blame as well. The way she decided to ask the question about dealing with the V.A. crisis seemed deliberately designed to allow the candidates to redirect it to complain about Republican or conservative responses:”

    It’s almost as if you’re suggesting these debates are largely orchestrated by the parties and the moderators are carefully picked to build and guide a larger narrative.

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  25. Which would be worse — socialized medicine – a system where the doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators are all employed by the federal government (like the VA), or socialized health insurance — which is what “Medicare for All” would be?

    Lots of government control in either situation, but I don’t think each would end up equally bad or cause the same problems.

    Insurance companies engage in price control schemes (“usual and customary charges, which you cannot review), they try to restrict access (provider networks), and if allowed, try their best not to insure people who might cost them too much money. Of course, we consumers have a little bit of power in that scheme — we can choose another insurance company with a different network, a different deductible, etc. We can also choose our doctors – they’re in private practice. If the doctor isn’t in the “network”, then we can choose to pay out of our own pocket and stick with him/her. Same for hospitals. In a single payer system (socialized insurance), wouldn’t be very similar? Doctors remain in private practice.

    Socialized medicine – where the doctors work for the federal government means we don’t have the same choices – which is clearly why the VA is such a mess.

    It seems like a mistake to automatically suggest single payer would be like the VA.

    1. You make a valid point. However i think it would morph into government completely taking over healthcare because they have no idea on how to solve problems.

      Also i can the administration of medicare for all being a pain in the ass

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  27. To what extent does the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee control funding and management of the VA? In light of Sanders’ advocacy for all things state-controlled, his chairmanship of the committee should never be forgotten or downplayed. It should be highlighted at every opportunity, *especially* as it pertains to the feasibility of single-payer or socialized healthcare (or socialized anything, really). If he could not oversee the operation that was generally well-funded (funding for the VA had tripled since 2000), why the hell would anyone in their right mind select him to have even more control over a larger swath of healthcare? Fuck, even the NYT states: “(Sanders’) deep seated faith in the fundamental goodness of government blinded him, at least at first, to a dangerous breakdown in the one corner of it he was supposed to police.” The best part of all? EVEN THEN, he was blaming it on the Kochtopus: “There is, right now, as we speak, a concerted effort to undermine the VA,” Sanders said in May 2014. “You have folks out there now?Koch brothers and others?who want to radically change the nature of society, and either make major cuts in all of these institutions, or maybe do away with them entirely.”

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