As questions swirl in Washington over whether President Donald Trump’s administration is considering privatizing VA health care, Rhode Island’s director of Veterans Affairs says he’ll take his cue from local vets.
“It’s been crystal clear that our veterans have been against it,” Kasim Yarn said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Thursday. “Our veterans dictate what I do. It’s just that easy.”
Trump dismissed VA Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday, prompting Shulkin to write in a New York Times Op-ed that he was forced out because of his opposition to putting veterans health care in the hands of the private sector.
“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin wrote.
The White House denied that privatization discussions were underway, but Trump said at an event Thursday that he wanted veterans to be able to see private doctors.
“We want them to have choice,” Trump said. “So they can run to a private doctor and take care of it.”
Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat and the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, said he would be against privatization of the VA.
“I believe in a strong VA that provides the best possible care for our veterans,” Reed said. “I oppose misguided efforts to privatize the VA to serve a political agenda.”
Yarn said a private system could mean less federal funding, and more of a burden on the state and municipalities. He said veterans are concerned about what their own out-of-pocket costs could be.
Still, he said he would work with both federal and local leaders to find the best option if such a system was proposed.
“I’m a glass half-full type of person,” Yarn said. “My primary focus is to work across state agencies and at the municipality level…to make sure all our veterans can make it here in Rhode Island.”
Trump has nominated Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs.