As the debate over reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs heats up, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fights back against Republicans who criticized her defense of the beleaguered agency.
At a town hall in her New York district last week, Ocasio-Cortez said that despite chronic administrative problems and funding restrictions, the VA was not broken and still delivered some of the highest-quality care. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” she told her constituents, issuing a call to arms against the privatization of the service driven by large corporations.
Conservative commentators and politicians quickly dismissed Ocasio-Cortez’s comments, framing them as a naïve attempt to raise her own national profile and advance her progressive agenda.
But the congresswoman went on the attack on Wednesday evening, accusing Republicans of selling out the VA to for-profit interests and calling for better funding across the department.
“The GOP participates in a lobbyist-friendly campaign to trash the VA, so we tear it up & shop out vet care to for-profit healthcare corps,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “To reduce VA wait times, we must FUND the VA so they can hire+fill the 48,000 vacancies for healthcare providers for our vets.
“Like many public systems, GOP want to rip the battery out + say the whole car doesn’t work, so they can sell it for parts,” she added.
Using a higher estimate of VA vacancies, Ocasio-Cortez declared, “Fully funding the VA & hiring to fill the 49k vacancies is a clear path to improving it—not auctioning off our vet care systems to for-profit companies.”
Speaking on Fox Business on Tuesday, author and retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata said that Ocasio-Cortez’s town hall defense of the VA showed the congresswoman “neither cares nor knows about the Veterans Administration.”
Ocasio-Cortez flatly rejected the charge: “I rep one of the strongest concentrations of veterans in NYC,” she tweeted. “The Bronx VA provides excellent care and community for our vets, who sing its praises. The way to improve VA care & reduce wait times (which can be shorter than priv care!) is by fully funding it—not privatizing it.”
The debate made it all the way to President Donald Trump, who declared, surprisingly, that Ocasio-Cortez was right, though he did not acknowledge her criticism of underfunding and concerns over privatization. “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct, the VA is not broken, it is doing great,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “But that is only because of the Trump Administration.”
The VA has grappled with scandals, long waiting lists and funding issues for many years. Under President Obama in 2014, for example, it emerged that veterans were being placed on secret waiting lists as the department consistently delayed access to required care. Some patients died while waiting for treatment. These lists have proved difficult to clear, and even now some veterans still face a long wait for health care.
Partnering with private corporations has been floated as one way to take the pressure off the federal system. Proponents say such reforms would give veterans more choice and faster access to care, but opponents argue such measures would constitute an invitation to siphon off federal funds.
For many VA patients, the wait for healthcare remains a bleak reality. Even for those who do make it to treatment, the problems are not over. Former Marine Brian Tally, for example, was misdiagnosed three times before VA providers discovered an aggressive infection eating away at his spine and inflicting severe nerve damage.
“The entire system let me down on all levels,” Tally told Newsweek. After four months of misdiagnoses, his wife eventually stumped up the money to pay for an MRI—which had been refused despite Tally’s requests. The MRI finally revealed the infection. Though he eventually received treatment, Tally remains severely disabled.
Tally has spent more than a year lobbying Congress for reform via the Brian Tally VA Medical Care and Liability Improvement Act. “I am optimistic that we will see positive change within the VA,” he explained, but admitted he remains “extremely discouraged and disheartened at the level of effort it takes, and the amount of bureaucracy that stands in the way of ‘common sense’ solutions.”

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