Privatization Move for VA Considered By Trump

Politics Dow Jones Newswires

Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (The Associated Press)

President-elect Donald Trump is considering moving the Department of Veterans Affairs toward privatization, a transition team official said Wednesday, a policy decision major veterans' groups have said they would oppose. 

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Mr. Trump is considering changing the department to allow some veterans to bypass the VA heath-care system completely and get care exclusively from private-sector hospitals and clinics, the official said. It is an option that could give veterans full choice over their health care, but which many veterans groups argue is the first step toward privatization and one that will reduce the quality of health care over the long term. 

"It's one of the options on the table," the transition official said Wednesday. "Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either or, or all private." 

The possible reform plan was floated after Mr. Trump pulled aside a pool of reporters and instructed the official to give some details about changes he is considering at the VA, and that were apparently discussed during private meetings in Florida on Wednesday. 

Mr. Trump has met with a handful of people familiar with the VA, the official said, and discussed the possibility of coming up with an advisory council to assist in making changes at the department. 

"How would you implement a program that could get vets the ability to go to any hospital that they wanted to go to," said the transition official, outlining conversations that have taken place. "If you were in the VA or out of the VA, how would you set it up?" 

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Veterans groups, and the department itself, say a private-sector care program without adequate VA oversight or coordination leaves former members of the military navigating a private system that isn't necessarily equipped to handle the unique problems veterans face, including post-traumatic stress and injuries sustained on the battlefield. 

"Veterans suffer very specific illnesses and injuries that come from the battlefield and that come from service and they tend to be multiple in nature," VA Secretary Bob McDonald said in an interview on Dec. 13, when asked why the VA needs to remain the coordinating hub of care for veterans. "Veterans want a doctor, or want a provider, who understands these illnesses and these injuries and knows how to deal with them and deals with them every day." 

Earlier this month, a group of advocates, including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Paralyzed Veterans of America, said at a press conference they would oppose moves to privatize the department.

Write to Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com