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“A Public-Relations Effort For Himself”: Donald Trump’s ‘Shady’ Support For Veterans

When Democrats make the case that Donald Trump has a controversial background when it comes to veterans’ issues, it’s not just wishful thinking. The presumptive Republican nominee, for example, has drawn criticism for supporting a privatization plan for veterans’ care. His associations with the sketchy Veterans for a Strong America exacerbated the problem.

And it certainly didn’t help matters when Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, said he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

Making matters much worse are new questions about Trump and veterans-related fundraising.

In January, the New York Republican skipped a debate in Iowa to instead hold a fundraiser for veterans. Trump repeatedly boasted at the time that, thanks to his bold leadership, he’s raised $6 million for vets. Trump added that he’d contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.

Whatever happened to all of that money? The Washington Post took a closer look.

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the fundraiser actually netted about $4.5 million, or 75 percent of the total that Trump announced.

Lewandowski blamed the shortfall on Trump’s own wealthy acquaintances. He said some of them had promised big donations that Trump was counting on when he said he had raised $6 million. But Lewandowski said those donors backed out and gave nothing. […]

Lewandowski also said he did not know whether a $1 million pledge from Trump himself was counted as part of the $4.5 million total. He said Trump has given that amount, but he declined to identify any recipients.

The number of questions, which the campaign does not want to answer, represents a real problem. Exactly how much did Trump raise for veterans? His campaign doesn’t know. How much of it has been allocated? His campaign doesn’t know that, either. Who were the beneficiaries of Trump’s $1 million contribution? The campaign doesn’t want to talk about it.

I’m trying to imagine how the political world would react if Hillary Clinton and her team tried this.

The Post’s report added:

In recent weeks, Trump and his campaign repeatedly declined to give new details about how much they have given away. “Why should I give you records?” Trump said in an interview with The Post this month. “I don’t have to give you records.”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Trump’s refusal to divulge how much of the money he had distributed raised questions about whether the candidate intended the fundraiser primarily as a public-relations effort for himself.

“That’s just shady. Right? No matter how you cut it, that’s just shady,” Rieckhoff said. “If he was going to make it right, a couple of weeks before Memorial Day would be a good time to do it. It behooves him, not just politically but ethically, to come forward and account for this money.”

Just so we’re clear, there’s ample evidence that Trump did raise millions for veterans and some organizations benefited from the donations.

There is, however, additional evidence that Trump’s specific claims about the amount of money raised weren’t true, and for whatever reason, the Republican candidate and his team have been reluctant to account for the money in detail. Indeed, when asked for details about how Trump’s $1 million was allocated, the GOP candidate’s campaign manager responded, “He’s not going to share that information.”

Postscript: To put this in a slightly larger context, in April, the Washington Post reported on Trump’s frequent boasts that he’s given “more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.” The newspaper found, however, “Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.”

Update: Several readers reminded me that Trump’s troubles with veterans also extend to his condemnation of John McCain and servicemembers who “get captured.” It’s an important point.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2016

May 25, 2016 Posted by | Charitable Donations, Donald Trump, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Caught Red Handed”: The Latest On Efforts To Privatize The VA

A few weeks ago, the Washington Monthly published a story by investigative reporter Alicia Mundy that challenged the whole narrative about 2014 VA “scandal,” the one in which dozens of veterans were said to have died as a result of lengthy wait times to see VA doctors. In fact, Mundy shows, the department’s inspector general, after an exhaustive review of patient records, could not say with any confidence that even one veteran had suffered that fate. There were certainly problems at some VA facilities; the wait list numbers were definitely being gamed by VA personnel who, like Charlie Chaplin’s factory worker, struggled to keep up with unmeetable performance metrics. The “death wait” allegations, however, turn out to be bogus–cooked up by a Koch brothers-funded group, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), working with Hill Republicans, in order to panic Washington lawmakers into passing legislation in 2014 to outsource VA care to private sector providers.

In reaction to our story, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller (R-Tea Party) wrote an intemperate letter attacking the story’s key findings as “completely false,” allegations we rather easily countered. Then Miller appeared before the commission his legislation mandated and made a damned fool of himself. Then a faction of the conservatives on the commission were outed for writing up a secret draft of the commission’s recommendations–in which they call for full privatization of the VA—in possible violation of the Sunshine and Federal Advisory Committee Acts.

The latest news on this is that leaders of eight prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, sent a letter to the commission chair slamming the secret draft and expressing their united opposition to privatizing the VA. This is an important development. As Mundy explains in her piece, a big reason the privatization push has gotten as far as it has is that the traditional veterans groups allowed themselves to be sidelined politically by CVA. Now, finally, those groups are fighting back. And while they don’t have seats on the commission, they do have 5 million members.

So far, this story has gotten virtually no mainstream press coverage–in part, no doubt, because it contradicts the “scandal at the VA” narrative that the press itself originally reported. But I don’t think this hesitancy will last long–the story’s way too juicy. Independent research mandated by that 2014 legislation not only undermines claims about dozens of veterans dying because of wait times, but also shows that the VA provides the same or better quality care than does the private sector. Yet here you have commission members, many of whom represent corporate medical centers that stand to gain billions of dollars in revenue from outsourcing VA care, caught red handed crafting secret recommendations to outsource VA care at the expense of quality care for veterans.

If I had to bet on who’s going to win this policy war, I wouldn’t, at this point, put my money on the outsourcers.

 

By: Paul Glastris, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Republicans, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Veterans Scandal On Bernie Sanders’ Watch”: An Obscured View Of The Situation On The Ground

Bernie Sanders’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was characterized by glaring neglect of his oversight responsibilities, allowing the 2014 VA scandal to unfold under his watch, veterans’ rights advocates argue.

Sanders has touted his work on veterans’ issues, most recently citing his involvement in “the most comprehensive VA health care bill in this country,” in a debate Thursday.

Left unsaid however, is that he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, responsible for overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the scandal erupted.

Dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care at Phoenix Veterans Health Administration facilities, a scandal CNN broke in the spring of 2014. The imbroglio spread with reports of secret waiting lists at other VA hospitals, possibly leading to dozens more preventable deaths.

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,” said Dan Caldwell, the vice president for political and legislative action of Concerned Veterans for America.

Republicans on the committee signed a letter shortly after the scandal broke, demanding to hold multiple oversight hearings on the VA, and complained that they had requested “multiple oversight hearings since the beginning of the 113th Congress with none of the requested hearings taking place and no response.”

Even as the scandal was breaking, Sanders was challenged for his defense of the VA.

“You sound like a lawyer defending the hospital, as opposed to a senator trying to make sure the right thing is done,” CNN host Chris Cuomo lectured Sanders as the scandal unraveled.

It was his progressive worldview that blinded him to the problems of the VA, some veterans advocates argued, and it prevented him from seeing the problem as it emerged.

Sanders, some veterans’ rights workers say, wanted to believe that the VA was a model for government-run health care.

“For years, many people within the progressive movement and the left touted the VA as an example of what government-run health care could look like for Americans,” added Dan Caldwell. “Based on Bernie Sanders’s ideology, he wanted the government-run system at the VA to work, because it reinforced his view of what government health care should look like for all Americans, not just veterans.”

Those advocates don’t think his rosy view of what was happening at the VA lined up with reality.

“His worldview got in the way of the facts on the ground. He’s concerned about veterans, but had an almost blind faith in the VA system to where it obscured his view of the situation on the ground as the scandal was unfolding,” said a congressional source close to the legislative negotiations on VA reform.

The problem, the source said, was that Sanders “believed in government, and he believed in it to a fault.”

Ultimately, an emergency piece of legislation was passed that infused money into the VA and created some accountability mechanisms. The Choice Act, as it was called, also allowed vets to find private-care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days, a major concession that Sanders was forced to make.

“He got backed into a corner and had no choice but to support the bill. The consensus on the committee was strong—to have some more accountability and give veterans some private choices,” Caldwell said. “Bernie just got outgunned… he had no choice. Now he’s turning it around and using it as an example of finding consensus… The bill that passed would have largely passed even if he had walked away.”

The congressional source close to the negotiations said Sanders “helped negotiate this bill and got some of his elements in,” including additional funding for the VA, but only after a late start, having defended the VA during the early days of the scandal.

Sanders cites awards from the American Legion and the VFW as evidence of accomplishments during his time as chairman.

But Miller batted this away: “That’s not uncommon for the chairman and ranking member of committees to get awards from veterans associations. Or, quite frankly, if they’re chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to get it from a tax-writing firm. Or if they’re chairman of House Armed Services, to get something from Boeing.”

“When vets needed Bernie Sanders to aggressively oversee the VA and hold them accountable, he was AWOL,” Caldwell added.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Purely Political Operation”: How The Koch Network Exploited The Veterans Affairs Crisis

As the scandal over waiting lists at Veterans Affairs hospitals exploded earlier this year, there was widespread outrage—and justifiably so, as the country learned that more than 100,000 veterans waited over ninety days for care or never received it.

An ever-present force in this debate was a group called Concerned Veterans for America. Its leader, Peter Hegseth, frequently appeared on cable news segments about the scandal, and CVA was often mentioned on the floor of the Senate.

Though the group doesn’t disclose its donors, it has for a long while been clear the group is funded in part, or perhaps even in full, by the Koch brothers. Any remaining doubt can now be erased thanks to audio from the secretive Koch donor retreat this summer, obtained by The Undercurrent and reported here.

Hegseth addressed the crowd and not only confirmed that the Koch network “literally created” CVA but explained giddily “the central role that Concerned Veterans for America played in exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning.”

Most notably, during his roughly ten-minute speech, Hegseth outlined how the group was turning legitimate grievances over Veterans Affairs care into a political weapon to attack both the Obama administration and the idea of government-provided healthcare.

When Kevin Gentry, vice president of the Charles G. Koch charitable foundation, introduced Hegseth to the assembled donors, he noted that “you all helped build a group called Concerned Veterans for America.”

At various points, Hegseth took pains to express his gratitude to the people funding his operation. “Concerned Veterans for America is an organization this network literally created to empower veterans and military families to fight for the freedom and prosperity here at home that we fought for in uniform on the battlefield,” he noted.

“We utilized the competitive advantage that only this network provides: the long-term vision to invest and the resources to back it up,” he continued.

Hegseth also created a distinct impression for the audience that CVA was responsible for bringing the VA crisis to the forefront:

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you know about the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs. What you probably don’t know is the central role that Concerned Veterans for America played in exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning.

After years of effort behind the scenes privately and publicly, the scandal eventually made national headlines when initially in Phoenix it was exposed that veterans were waiting on secret lists that were meant to hide the real wait times veterans had at VA facilities of months and months and months.

Indeed, CVA played a key role in bringing the scandal to the national consciousness. In early April of this year, a doctor from the now-infamous Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix retired and went to The Arizona Republic with allegations of falsified data about long wait times for patients.

But despite the story, it remained a local issue. One of the things that helped drive it into the national news was a rally organized by CVA in Phoenix with Republican Representative Dave Schweikert. Not long after, CNN reporter Drew Griffin ran a long investigative piece that sent the story viral.

The scandal surely deserves attention. But Hegseth’s speech is striking for the naked political motivations behind CVA’s advocacy, and what he deems most important:

Perhaps most importantly to this effort, we have created a new line of defense against the march towards socialized medicine, educating veterans and Americans in the process. Veterans have had government-run healthcare for decades. We’ve had the preview of Obamacare, and the scandal has exposed the inevitable result of central planning for all Americans: massive wait times, impenetrable bureaucracy, de facto rationing, wasted tax dollars. It goes on and on.

Throughout this effort, Concerned Veterans for America, along with our network partners, have intentionally broadened the debate to include big government dysfunction generally, further fortifying a new skepticism that AFP and others have brought to what government-run healthcare does.

Even before this year’s scandal, CVA was using problems with Veteran’s Affairs healthcare as a political cudgel against both the Affordable Care Act and vulnerable Democrats. This ad taken against Representative Alan Grayson is a good example, in which a veteran explains his troubles getting care and then says “If you want to know what Obamacare’s going to be like, just look at the VA system.”

CVA operates in the expanding world of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that, in reality, are pure political operations. The group’s finances are hard to parse, but it appears much of their spending is on ads targeting Democrats in swing states—late this summer, for example, CVA began a $1.6 million advertising campaign against Democratic Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina. (Notably, the air time was already reserved by the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners, but they canceled their buy and turned it over to CVA.)

Finally in his speech, Hegseth claims that Republican senators were working hand-in-glove with CVA to pass the Sanders-McCain legislation this summer on veteran’s healthcare, and that the Koch network alone is responsible for the “market-based” reforms included in the bill:

Ten days ago, the Senate struck a historic deal, a deal that Concerned Veterans for America was central to in every aspect literally ensuring that the language stay focused on real market-based reform, and we pushed the ball across the Now usually deals in the Senate include only one thing: billions and billions of dollars in more spending. Not this one.

This deal, as with the legislation in the House, was instead built on two market-based reforms that were injected by Concerned Veterans for America and advanced the entire point, the entire way.

He names the accountability measures that allow quick termination of under-performing VA managers, which was initially advanced by Senator Marco Rubio.

Hegseth then says the “crown jewel” of the bill is the ability for veterans to obtain private healthcare if they are waiting too long in the VA system. “The latter reform, which seems like a no-brainer to everyone in this audience, is a huge development, rocking the core of big government status quo in Washington,” he claims.

Here, Hegseth is engaging in some undue bravado. The option for privatized care is for veterans is significant, though only available to veterans who have to wait thirty days or more for care or live more than forty miles from a VA facility. Hegseth doesn’t mention the provision has a sunset of three years or until funding runs out, whichever comes first.

And speaking of funding, the legislation increases the deficit by $10 billion. That would seem to go against much of the fiscal conservatism trumpeted elsewhere in the donor conference.

Nevertheless, the Hegseth speech is an interesting window into how the Koch network operates: funding an ostensible advocacy group that is, in fact, a relentless political operation—and one that can, with the right situation to exploit, do everything from take out political attack ads to help craft legislation.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, September 23, 2014

September 24, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Politics, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Veterans And Zombies”: The Hype Behind The Health Care Scandal

You’ve surely heard about the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A number of veterans found themselves waiting a long time for care, some of them died before they were seen, and some of the agency’s employees falsified records to cover up the extent of the problem. It’s a real scandal; some heads have already rolled, but there’s surely more to clean up.

But the goings-on at Veterans Affairs shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of a much bigger scandal: the almost surreal inefficiency and injustice of the American health care system as a whole. And it’s important to understand that the Veterans Affairs scandal, while real, is being hyped out of proportion by people whose real goal is to block reform of the larger system.

The essential, undeniable fact about American health care is how incredibly expensive it is — twice as costly per capita as the French system, two-and-a-half times as expensive as the British system. You might expect all that money to buy results, but the United States actually ranks low on basic measures of performance; we have low life expectancy and high infant mortality, and despite all that spending many people can’t get health care when they need it. What’s more, Americans seem to realize that they’re getting a bad deal: Surveys show a much smaller percentage of the population satisfied with the health system in America than in other countries.

And, in America, medical costs often cause financial distress to an extent that doesn’t happen in any other advanced nation.

How and why does health care in the United States manage to perform so badly? There have been many studies of the issue, identifying factors that range from high administrative costs, to high drug prices, to excessive testing. The details are fairly complicated, but if you had to identify a common theme behind America’s poor performance, it would be that we suffer from an excess of money-driven medicine. Vast amounts of costly paperwork are generated by for-profit insurers always looking for ways to deny payment; high spending on procedures of dubious medical efficacy is driven by the efforts of for-profit hospitals and providers to generate more revenue; high drug costs are driven by pharmaceutical companies who spend more on advertising and marketing than they do on research.

Other advanced countries don’t suffer from comparable problems because private gain is less of an issue. Outside the U.S., the government generally provides health insurance directly, or ensures that it’s available from tightly regulated nonprofit insurers; often, many hospitals are publicly owned, and many doctors are public employees.

As you might guess, conservatives don’t like the observation that American health care performs worse than other countries’ systems because it relies too much on the private sector and the profit motive. So whenever someone points out the obvious, there is a chorus of denial, of attempts to claim that America does, too, offer better care. It turns out, however, that such claims invariably end up relying on zombie arguments — that is, arguments that have been proved wrong, should be dead, but keep shambling along because they serve a political purpose.

Which brings us to veterans’ care. The system run by the Department of Veterans Affairs is not like the rest of American health care. It is, if you like, an island of socialized medicine, a miniature version of Britain’s National Health Service, in a privatized sea. And until the scandal broke, all indications were that it worked very well, providing high-quality care at low cost.

No wonder, then, that right-wingers have seized on the scandal, viewing it as — to quote Dr. Ben Carson, a rising conservative star — “a gift from God.”

So here’s what you need to know: It’s still true that Veterans Affairs provides excellent care, at low cost. Those waiting lists arise partly because so many veterans want care, but Congress has provided neither clear guidelines on who is entitled to coverage, nor sufficient resources to cover all applicants. And, yes, some officials appear to have responded to incentives to reduce waiting times by falsifying data.

Yet, on average, veterans don’t appear to wait longer for care than other Americans. And does anyone doubt that many Americans have died while waiting for approval from private insurers?

A scandal is a scandal, and wrongdoing must be punished. But beware of people trying to use the veterans’ care scandal to derail health reform.

And here’s the thing: Health reform is working. Too many Americans still lack good insurance, and hence lack access to health care and protection from high medical costs — but not as many as last year, and next year should be better still. Health costs are still far too high, but their growth has slowed dramatically. We’re moving in the right direction, and we shouldn’t let the zombies get in our way.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 19, 2014

June 23, 2014 Posted by | Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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