On December 13, 2016, John Bircher, National Public Relations Director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), wrote in a newsletter to its members,
The Military Order of the Purple Heart calls on President Elect Donald Trump to continue the time-honored tradition of naming a person with prior military experience to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. There has never been a Secretary of Veterans Affairs who has not served his/her country in military uniform.
To be effective, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs must have a genuine belief in the debt owed to our nation’s military men and women for their service to our nation; have substantive experience working on veterans’ physical and mental health care issues during his/her lifetime; be knowledgeable on the myriad problems faced by Veterans as they navigate the VA Healthcare System, and be committed to addressing the concerns of both our nation’s veterans and those VA employees who serve them.
To date, none of the names mentioned as possible candidates would be acceptable to MOPH.
Other veteran groups also have concerns about Trump’s new VA secretary.
On November 30, 2016), Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of Veteran of America’s (IAVA) said
“We are extremely concerned that President-elect Trump has yet to meet publicly with a single leader of any of the established national veterans organizations or The Military Coalition (TMC) groups. Instead, Mr. Trump’s first publicized meeting on veterans issues is with the leader of a controversial and partisan political group.”
The man to whom Rieckhoff was referring was Pete Hegseth. Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans of America at the time, is a decorated former military officer (Major) who served in Iraq with the U.S. National Guard.
Because of the news cycle, Rieckhoff missed the fact that Hegseth met with Trump the previous day. And, on the following day, Trump’s transition team members met with representatives of 31 veteran groups.
Trump’s website shows a “10 Point Plan to Reform The Department of Veterans Affairs” which has two major points about privatization of medical care for veterans:
9. Increase the number of mental health care professionals, and allow veteran’s to be able to seek mental health care outside of the VA.
10. Ensure every veteran has the choice to seek care at the VA or at a private service provider of their own choice. Under a Trump Administration, no veteran will die waiting for service.
Hegseth has been on record of privatization. However, the issue has been fraught with complaints by veteran groups about the subject. However, the problem is their belief that a choice to seek care at a private service provider means that the entire VA healthcare system will be privatized. There is absolutely no indication that this is the intent of the Trump adminstration!
Granted there is much to do with the VA and the new secretary will have a big but necessary challenge in front of him or her. At the moment, Hegseth and Adm. Michelle Howard are the only leading contenders for the position who are veterans.
We veterans agree with John Bircher’s comments “to continue the time-honored tradition of naming a person with prior military experience to head the Department of Veterans Affairs!”
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