Protesters rally outside of Brooklyn VA

With picket signs waving and car horns blaring, dozens of veterans, union members and supporters of the Brooklyn campus of the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System rallied outside of the hospital (800 Poly Place) to protest the privatization of the healthcare system – a decision that, while still in up in the air, has a lot of local supporters up in arms.

Signs reading “Veterans for a strong VA” and “Stop the privatization of the VA” could be seen upon arrival at the hospital on Tuesday, June 28, while cheers of “hey, hey, ho, ho privatization’s got to go” could be heard for blocks.

Cheryl Jones, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 862, was leading the day’s efforts and weighed in on why standing against privatization is so important.

“The Commission on Care (a Congress-established commission that examines veterans’ access to Department of Veterans Affairs health care) is supposed to report back to the president [of the hospital] on what to do with the VA,” Jones explained. “On this commission, [there are people with] political affiliations and a lot of executives of private care who would benefit from privatizing the VA.

“We made a promise to our veterans,” she continued. “We said we would be there and that they would have health care. I know, recently, there have been some issues, but, as all veterans know, you don’t give up on the mission because you had a failure. You just figure it out and get better and stronger.”

According to AFGE – a federal employee union that represents 670,000 government workers nationwide and overseas, the Commission on Care is closing in on a set of recommendations that the union says could “significantly weaken the VA’s health care system” and “pave the way for privatization and future closures of VA medical centers,” leaving veterans with private, for-profit hospitals.

So far, VA employees and veterans have organized 38 rallies in 19 states.

“We’re out here because we’re protesting the privatization of the VA medical healthcare system,” said Vietnam veteran Jim Markson, a past post commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 107. “Now, privatization could be a good thing, but the way they’re doing it, it’s not going to be a good thing. This is really pathetic that the men and women, the veterans out here who, at one time or another, risked their lives for the very society we live in, have to stand on a picket line to get decent health care and benefits.”

According to a policy study on privatizing public hospitals written by Richard Tradewell, while privatization can “raise cash, reduce debt, and create a better system for serving indigents,” transitioning from operating the public hospital to a privatized system means “crossing a mine field of regulations, selecting the best structural arrangement to meet local goals, negotiating the best deal possible, and handling union and public opposition.”

The Brooklyn Campus of the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System is the only full-scale VA medical center in the borough. The Chapel Street Veterans Healthcare Center located on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn Heights acts as a community-based outpatient clinic. The Manhattan Campus of the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System, located on East 23rd Street, is the only other full-scale VA medical center in the NY-Metro area.

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