You poked the wrong bear this time

Dear President Trump,

Even if I hadn’t been writing to you every day for 410 days, this would be a day I’d be writing to you to express my frustration, dismay, and concern over your decision to fire Secretary Shulkin and to install your White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, in his place as head of the VA. You see, for all its faults, I love the VA and our mission. It would be one thing had you decided to replace Dr. Shulkin with someone with relevant experience, but when you put someone with absolutely no relevant experience in charge of a huge, complex, high profile agency just because you like him and he’s kinda like family to you, you are throwing said agency under the bus. So nice work – you have now added the VA to your list of federal agencies you all are undermining from the top down.

I predict, however, this isn’t going to go as smoothly for you all as the dismantling of other agencies has gone. Endangered species can’t lobby and raise a ruckus on their own behalf and most extremely poor people in need of housing or cash assistance don’t have the time or energy (or frankly, the voice) to organize effectively. Federal employees can’t officially speak out, and plus, we risk sounding whiny and as though all we really care about are our jobs.

But the VA has veterans and veterans are articulate, passionate people who have credibility and a real voice. Absolutely, some veterans are frustrated by the VA and would like to privatize it, and their experiences and concerns should be taken seriously. However, there are many veterans who recognize that while the VA is not perfect, it does a much better job of serving their complex physical and mental health needs than they could ever hope to match in the private sector. Only about a third of US veterans use VA services, but study after study has shown that those who do use VA are facing multi-layered challenges. So, I think you chose the wrong bear to poke when you decided to put Dr. Ronny in charge of the VA. If it starts looking like you and Ronny (and the Kochs) are moving to dismantle the VA, you can bet veterans are going to be making themselves heard.

May we keep our most vulnerable veterans safe.
May we be happy to further improve VA rather than tear it apart.
May we recognize that a subset of veterans need veteran-centric wrap-around
May we commit to peace and radically change this whole conversation.

Tracy Simpson

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