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Warnings of Koch Brothers Influence After Shulkin Says VA Privatization Advocates Forced Him Out

"Shulkin is obviously correct that privatization push is political, but important to understand that it's also ideological: VA is govt-run healthcare that works, and for free market fundamentalists this simply must not be allowed to exist."

 Virgie Hardeman, left, and Lorissa Longoria, nurses at the Veterans Administration hospital in Temple, prepare to march to the VA Austin Outpatient Clinic in Austin on Wednesday to raise awareness of low staffing levels at the VA. (Photo: Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Less than 24 hours after he was ousted as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by President Donald Trump, David Shulkin argued in an op-ed for the New York Times on Thursday that he was forced out by privatization advocates in the White House who saw him as an "obstacle" and warned that handing the department over to the private sector "is a terrible idea."

"This whole business is not about David Shulkin. It's about the influence of the Koch brothers over the Trump administration and their desire to privatize VA."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Shulkin's account of his firing bolstered concerns expressed by lawmakers, veteran advocacy groups, and other analysts that the new opening at the VA could be seen as an opportunity by the Koch brothers and other far-right figures to dismantle a public healthcare institution which, through its very existence, poses a serious threat to the ideological agenda of "free market fundamentalists."

"The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing VA," Shulkin wrote on Thursday. "I can assure you that I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the VA by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans."

As the government's second-largest agency, the VA has long been a major target of Charles and David Koch, who have used their "front group" Concerned Veterans for America to advocate pushing veterans into the private healthcare market and sharply reducing the department's budget.

Following Shulkin's termination Wednesday evening, many warned against characterizing the episode as a mere "staff shake-up" rather than as part of a concerted effort to privatize the VA.

"This whole business is not about David Shulkin. It's about the influence of the Koch brothers over the Trump administration and their desire to privatize VA," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday, a sentiment echoed by other analysts following Shulkin's ouster.

In Shulkin's place, Trump nominated White House physician Ronny Jackson, an active duty Navy admiral with no experience managing a federal agency.

Responding to Jackson's nomination in a statement on Thursday, VoteVets—an advocacy group that has argued Trump's push to privatizate the VA is "bad for veterans"—expressed concerns about Jackson's inexperience and urged him to immediately take a firm stand against privatization.

"If he stands with the Kochs, we'll use every available resource to ensure he is not confirmed," concluded Will Fischer, director of government relations for VoteVets.

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