Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown didn’t serve in the military. His likely challenger in 2018, the same candidate he beat in 2012, did serve in the military. State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who prominently features his eight years in the U.S. Marine Reserves on his campaign website, would likely privatize healthcare for servicemen if he could, putting them in harm’s way again off the battlefield.
Privatization would fail to provide veterans with the specialized care and services they need, and veterans groups overwhelmingly oppose privatization of their health care. For these two reasons alone, Sen. Brown, who apparently has commissioned himself a general in the army opposing such efforts, finds it faulty.
The backdrop on veteran’s affairs comes amid a Trump transition official’s statement in December that a Trump White House would consider offering a “public-private option” that would allow some veterans to get all of their medical care from private-sector physicians, with the government paying the bill.
Sen. Brown showed his stripes as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee by voting to confirm Dr. David Shulkin, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
In a statement about his vote, Sen. Brown said, “I’ve worked with Dr. Shulkin to make improvements to the VA for Ohioans, and have seen his commitment to acting in the best interest of our nation’s veterans. Acting in the best interest of veterans, Brown says, entails working with him and the Veterans’ Committee “to do right by our veterans.”
What’s important to Sen. Brown is that what has happened to education, with the introduction of for-profit charter schools, doesn’t happen with delivery of healthcare to the nation’s veterans if privatization, a hot button for many Republicans, becomes reality with this president and congress. Mr. Brown told reporters that he’s expressed serious concerns that President Trump’s comments about privatizing the VA could put veterans at risk.
To earn Mr. Brown’s v0ote in committee, Dr. Shulkin made a commitment to Ohio’s senior senator, in private and in public, to protect veterans from privatization. Mr. Shulkin also assured the Committee that President Trump shares his position. Brown said he intends to hold Dr. Shulkin and President Trump, who like Brown didn’t serve in the military, to their words.
“When we allowed for-profit charter school operators to inject profits into Ohio education, they treated taxpayers like ATMs and shortchanged students,” Sen. Brown commented in a media release. “Veterans earn the right to top-quality healthcare through service and sacrifice, and I will not allow us to shirk our responsibility to military families by putting corporate profits ahead of their healthcare.”
Josh Mandel, Ohio’s two-term state treasurer, has used his time in the Marine Reserves, and especially his tours of duty in Iraq, to add patriotic luster to an ambitious political career that’s seen him rise from city councilman to state representative to treasurer. In 2010, the Tea Party wave election year, Mr. Mandel garnered more votes than any other candidate, including Rob Portman for Senate or John Kasich for governor. In 2012 he set his sites on picking off Sherrod Brown, but he couldn’t do it even with the help of $40 million and more in campaign spending from deep pocketed Republicans like the Koch Brothers and others.
In confirmation hearings in January, Sen. Brown questioned Shulkin on the impact that the Administration’s federal hiring freeze and support for privatizing veterans’ health care would have on Ohio veterans. It was then that Mr. Brown secured a commitment from Dr. Shulkin to implement the Memorandum of Agreement placing the Veterans History Center at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a project Sen. Brown has worked for years to ensure the Center would come to Dayton.
Mr. Mandel uses his marine boots to brand himself to conservatives as the warrior candidate fighting for them. But he hews like many other Republicans do to the jaundiced notion that government is bad, constantly in need of corrections. Whereas the private sector is always better, especially if left unchecked. That line of conservative GOP thinking is, of course, full-blown malarkey, but it sells well with Trump voters in Ohio Mandel wants to woo in two years. While Josh Mandel prominently features his military service in his campaign promotions, he’s silent on whether he would privatize the VA, creating exactly the kind of chain reaction Sen. Brown hopes to avoid.
By contrast, Sen. Brown isn’t quiet on the issue. He joined 54 of his fellow members of Congress recently to demand President Trump exempt the entire VA and all veterans seeking federal jobs from the Presidential Memorandum freezing federal hiring. Currently, the VA can’t hire doctors and nurses without human resources staff, or process the backlog of claims for veterans without having enough workers on the job. Delays at the VA have become a huge and politically volatile issue, one that plagued former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The significance of veterans in the federal workforce is that they constitute 31 percent of it. It’s commonsense, then , that a hiring freeze President Trump wants to impose could prevent veterans from finding employment, including many who are transitioning from the military to civilian service and may be disabled. The hiring freeze, if allowed to continue, cold add to the chronic workforce shortages that chronically plague the VA, where more than 40 percent of senior officials are currently eligible for retirement. A new generation of VA workers is lagging even though the agency has more than 45,000 vacancies to fill. Mr. Shulkin won Sen. Brown’s confirmation vote in part of an expectation of filling some of those vacancies.
A benchmark profile, according to the Military Times, is that about 9 million veterans or 40 percent of the total U.S. veterans population use VA medical services or receive veterans benefits.
In the war over war veterans, it looks like Sen. Brown has the backs of America’s fighting serviceman more than Marine Boots Mandel does, despite the difference in their respective service histories. It will be a political challenge for Mr. Mandel to vouchsafe for government run healthcare for veterans in contrast to his opposition to the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] for everyone else.