SOURCE: Paralyzed Veterans of America

Paralyzed Veterans of America

June 10, 2016 13:03 ET

Paralyzed Veterans of America Responds to Criticism Leveled by Concerned Veterans for America After Opposing Draft Bill Supporting VA Privatization

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - June 10, 2016) - In a statement released today, Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr., a retired U.S. Marine officer and paralyzed veteran, addressed criticism by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) after opposing the proposed 'Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act.'

"In his defense of privatizing VA health care, CVA's press secretary, Mr. John Cooper, made a point with which I could not agree more. He stated, 'the debate over reforming the VA is simple: either veterans deserve true choice or they do not.' So when severely disabled veterans overwhelmingly chose VA, Paralyzed Veterans of America listened and acted accordingly to preserve their choice.

I also agree with him that Paralyzed Veterans of America's 'deafening silence in response to scandal after scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs did not contribute to the cacophony of uninformed voices weighing in on the subject. After all, many of those voices belonged to instigators who had never been treated in a VA facility. We also avoided joining the political scrum that made the debate on fixing veterans' health care an ideological, highly publicized opportunity to grandstand and manufacture an identity for many who had previously dwelled in relative obscurity.

Instead, here's what Paralyzed Veterans of America actually did:

  • We conducted more than 100 annual audits at 157 VA spinal cord injury & disease centers, long term care facilities, outpatient clinics, and spoke sites since the Phoenix VA scandal broke and submitted over 4,982 recommendations to the VA Secretary and Under Secretary for Health to improve access to and quality of health care.
  • Our nationwide network of hospital-based service officers addressed more than 15,400 health benefit-related issues on behalf of our members, including medical care conferences, assistance with the pursuit of benefits, and working with VA to open doors to health care for members who faced barriers.
  • We worked with the VA Office of the Inspector General to expose environmental concerns at one VA facility. We submitted recommendations to terminate low performing senior managers at several facilities. We helped develop a more accurate nurse staffing methodology, and we worked with VA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the Denver VA construction project included plans for optimal accessibility for mobility impaired veterans.
  • We championed legislation that sought appropriate funding for VA and purchased health care, the preservation of veterans benefits, the expansion of support for military caregivers, fertility assistance for severely wounded veterans, and heightened accountability for VA senior leaders.

In sum, Paralyzed Veterans of America acted swiftly and aggressively to resolve issues, instead of jeering from the sidelines where the pundits and talking heads were content to simply admire the problems and relish in their complexities.

Here is something else Mr. Cooper, in speaking for his employer, might not have known since he had joined CVA only last summer: We presented our concerns directly to the senior leadership of CVA two years ago at their request. And we heard the same 'deafening silence' that Mr. Cooper talked about when we asked what will happen to catastrophically disabled veterans who are presently enrolled in Priority Group 4 and are not required to pay the copays that would crush them financially if suddenly forced to pay. We are still awaiting an answer.

We heard the same deafening silence when we asked CVA leadership about the Title 38 United States Code 'due process provisions' that presently protect veterans who are harmed by medical malpractice. We also asked whether their proposed private sector framework for veterans care will provide an appeals process to challenge the denial of benefits, or when disagreements over the best course of health care inevitably ensue. No answers to date.

We heard deafening silence when we asked CVA leadership about whether their plan addressed Congress' oversight role and whether private sector CEOs of poorly performing medical networks and negligent providers will be compelled to appear before Congress in the event another waitlist or abuse scandal happens, except this time in hospitals that are outside the jurisdiction of Congress' oversight. Still no answer.

We heard deafening silence after we asked CVA leadership about the possibility that medical malpractice involving veterans exercising 'choice' will foster a cottage industry of ambulance chasers, who will charge disabled veterans to handle those cases once the right to cost-free representation sanctioned under Title 38 United States Code section 1151 is eliminated. We're still waiting.

If CVA cannot answer these questions, maybe Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can.

Speaking of whom, Rep. McMorris Rodgers' willingness to serve her country on Capitol Hill is to be commended. But her status as a military spouse does not place her beyond reproach as a public servant and steward of the country's obligation to act in the best interest of all veterans. Launching an ad hominem attack on our relevance as a 70-year old, battle-tested veteran advocate -- the ONLY one that represents the most severely disabled veterans -- serves as a predictable attempt to steer attention away from the unstable rationale for VA privatization that undergirds the so-called 'Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act.' Paralyzed Veterans of America, however, will not be distracted.

Ultimately, the problem is not deafening silence on the part of Paralyzed Veterans of America. Rather, it is selective listening on the part of those who exploit the public's ignorance on this topic. More alarmingly, it is reflective of the cynical hope of a well-funded vocal minority that punting the problem to the private sector will happen before an enlightened public realizes the deflection of accountability that Rep. McMorris Rodgers' draft bill embodies.

As demonstrated by our bias for action over rhetoric, it is Paralyzed Veterans of America who not only remains truly 'concerned for the veterans of America,' but actually does something about it -- as should every tax-paying American citizen who places a higher premium on impactful, substantive efforts than the partisan political machinations of a lobby group masquerading as a voice for veterans."

About Paralyzed Veterans of America:
Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For 70 years, we have ensured that veterans have received the benefits earned through their service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a partner for life, Paralyzed Veterans also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces, provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation and advocates for veterans and all people with disabilities. With more than 70 offices and 34 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. (

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