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Updated: 9:41 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 | Posted: 9:24 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016

Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and the push to privatize the VA

Donald Trump and Sarah Palin
Andrew Burton
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31: Former U.S. Vice presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R), and Donald Trump walk towards a limo after leaving Trump Tower, at 56th Street and 5th Avenue, on May 31, 2011 in New York City. Palin and Trump met for a dinner meeting in the city. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

By Jeremy Schwartz and Austin American-Statesman

As speculation swirls over who President-elect Donald Trump will appoint to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, some veterans advocates are increasingly worried that the new administration will set the $180-billion department on the path to privatization.

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Fueling the concerns, the Trump transition team includes an advisor to Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch brothers-backed group that favors allowing veterans to choose where they get their health care. Such an approach, on a much smaller scale, emerged in the aftermath of nationwide scandals related to long wait times at VA facilities and claims that in some cases veterans died while waiting for care.

But while Congress has allowed some veterans who face long VA waits for certain medical procedures to seek outside care from private providers, many advocates fear opening up the program to include all veterans would lead inevitably to the massive health system’s disintegration.

Further stoking the privatization fears, a former CEO of the group, Pete Hegseth, has been floated as a potential Trump nominee to lead the VA. For its part, the group insists it is not seeking to dismantle the VA, but merely to reform it and offer more choice to veterans languishing on wait lists.

On Thursday morning, the nation’s largest veterans service organizations, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America, met with members of the Trump transition team to emphasize their opposition to any push to privatize the VA.

“The American Legion opposes getting rid of the VA healthcare system,” said Executive Director Verna Jones in a press conference following the meeting. “Veterans deserve a system that is set up for them, that understands veterans. (Getting rid of the VA) would be a slap in the face of all of us who served.”

One wild card in the equation is former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who has also emerged as a candidate for VA secretary in the Trump administration. She hasn’t commented specifically on whether she believes the VA should be privatized, but on her Facebook page she reacted to news that Trump was considering her by saying: “We should be grateful we’ll soon have a commander-in-chief who will champion our vets and honor the promises our nation made; a pro-private sector individual who surely understands bigger government is NOT the answer.”

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