When It Comes To Veterans Care, Hillary, Bernie, and Rachel Get It

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, pose for a photo before debating at
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, pose for a photo before debating at the University of New Hampshire Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Last evening's Democratic debate was full of fireworks. But, if you managed to stay tuned all the way to the end, you got to see Rachel Maddow ask the question that hasn't been asked in any Democratic debate, or Republican debate. But, that question cuts right to the core of the difference in vision between progressives and the Koch Brothers.

Here's Rachel:

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?

Rachel is no newcomer to this issue. If you've watched her show, you know that she is really the only television host out there who has been focused on the burgeoning campaign to close down the VA, and throw veterans into the private, for-profit system.

Further, she acutely understands the implications of privatizing the VA. If we can privatize one of the most sacred promises we make in this nation -- the guarantee of care of our veterans, when they come home from war -- and leave veterans to figure out their own care, with just a voucher and a pat on the back, then privatization of anything else is on the table. Anything.

The responses of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders showed a real awareness of what was is going on, and who is behind it.

Here is Hillary Clinton:

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.

And here is Bernie Sanders:

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.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both hit the nail on the head.

Late last year, VoteVets.org released a report on the Koch-Brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America. The group's founder, Pete Hegseth (who has since left) said that the Kochs "literally created" the group. And, the group stands entirely apart and alone from every major veterans service organization - the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and more - when it comes to privatizing the VA.

And, it isn't just the veterans groups. The Vet Voice Foundation commissioned a Democratic pollster and Republican pollster, to conduct a poll of veterans in America, on the issue of privatization. The findings?

  • Veterans oppose a proposal in Congress that would have the real effect of leading to privatized VA hospitals. Sixty-four percent oppose, and only 29% support.

  • Overall, 57% of veterans would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported privatizing the VA health care system. Even a majority of Republicans indicate they would be more likely to vote against a candidate who supported privatization. This opposition extends across parties: 67% of Democratic, 57% of Independent/don't know, and 53% of Republican veterans say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for high-elected office if they supported privatization of the VA health care system.
  • Fifty-nine percent of veterans rate their impression of VA hospitals as favorable. When only asked about VA hospitals in their area, 61% of veterans rate their impression as favorable.
  • In comparison, only 25% of veterans when asked if they have a favorable impression of for-profit health insurance corporations. And only 12 percent believe that VA hospitals should be run more like private hospitals.
  • So what do veterans want? Although veterans think that changes need to be made to the VA hospitals, their biggest want is more doctors. Forty-two percent of veterans think that "needs more doctors" describes VA hospitals in their area very well. That is the most frequently-given prescription for helping the VA perform more efficiently.
  • Veterans realize the VA has its issues - but they also realize that these issues are fixable, and understand that privatizing the VA only makes things worse. Knowing that, what did the Kochs do? They bought their own veterans group.

    Yet, until last night, the issue hadn't been raised, and the candidates weren't asked to address where they stand. Thank God Rachel Maddow brought it up, and gave the entire country a chance to see why veterans need progressives to rally against privatization of the veterans health system.