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Page 11
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Veterans and Unions Gain Momentum in their Fight Against VA Privatization

By Roberto Jesus Clack

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The Right To Heal (RTH) Coalition held its first public event at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side. It took place on March 1st and brought together well over 100 attendees as part of Chicago Jobs With Justice Workers' Right Board hearing. There were people representing veterans organizations, unions, community and religious organizations, and medicare for all organizers that day.

Alejandro Rodriguez speaking at
the Right to Heal panel, March 1, 2018.

Started in the fall of 2017, the Right to Heal Campaign has been spearheaded by the 3 major unions representing workers at the Jesse Brown VA: SEIU Healthcare, National Nurses United (NNU), and the American Federation of Governmental Employees (AFGE), along with members from VVAW and IVAW. Originally it was members of IVAW/VVAW and Veterans For Peace who formed the core of the veteran leadership for the Right to Heal Campaign, which is now actively organizing veterans unaffiliated to the 3 organizations, to fight back against Trump and the Koch Brothers agenda to privatize the VA Healthcare system.

As part of the event on the 1st, the Right to Heal Coalition invited well known healthcare author (The Battle for Veterans' Healthcare) and VA expert Suzanne Gordon to participate as a keynote speaker. During her remarks, Suzanne made the case that the VA provides superior or equal care that is more cost effective than the private healthcare market. "It would cost $450 billion if 60% of veterans sought private sector providers according to one estimate. To put this in perspective, the VHA budget is $70 billion total."

Gordon would go on to give another example, "It cost $150,000 to get a stem cell transplant at the Seattle VA, where they send veterans to get stem cell transplants. They pay for their airfare, they pay for their family to stay, they pay for their hotel, etc. It cost 1 million dollars to get that same transplant in the private healthcare system."

Adelena Marshall speaking at
the Right to Heal panel, March 1, 2018.

Panelists would get their turn to speak at the hearing after Ms. Gordon's remarks and both the veterans from the panel and from the floor resoundingly rejected proposals to privatize the VA. Retired Air Force Master Sergeant and Veterans For Peace member, Natasha Erskine said, "I deployed twice, there are some guys who deployed 10 times. The VA is going to get veterans who are even more heartbroken than me when I got back, and I say this as someone who has 11 existing conditions that did not exist when I joined the airforce." Erskine added, "I now say the VA did keep its promise, I love the VA, I am receiving excellent care and there are conditions that did not get addressed until I became a VA patient."

After the panelists finished their remarks, veteran after veteran blasted measures to privatize the VA. One veteran said, "If they can take out the veterans and privatize us and take us out first, after we fought for this country, then social security is next. They have to take out the veterans first."

"We walked out of the hearing with a mandate from the veterans' community to take action on this issue,"said IVAW member and Right to Heal Organizer Aaron Hughes. "We plan to organize even more vets and to take public actions to hold our elected officials accountable to fight efforts to privatize the VA."

While the RTH campaign has many challenges to fight the privatization agenda, organizers walked away with momentum to fight back. The coalition intends to expand its organizing efforts to become even more public, by taking the emerging movement of veterans, union member and healthcare organizers to the streets. The coalition of union members and veterans are actively meeting with congressional representatives on the issue of privatization and are planning both larger petitions, as well as street actions to raise awareness of the issue even further. With the firing of VA Secretary David Shulkin, it's clear that this issue requires a sustained response from unions and veterans in order to defeat efforts to privatize the VA.

Along with deepening organizing efforts in Chicago, the RTH campaign is in discussions with organizers from around the country to create a united front to fight back against profit driven motives to privatize the VA. A major event is being planned in Chicago around Memorial Day to bring even more attention to the issue of VA privatization.

Roberto Jesus Clack is a labor and community organizer in Chicago and currently is the Associate Director at Warehouse Workers for Justice, a workers center dedicated to organizing low income workers in Cook and Will County. Roberto is also a volunteer organizer and coordinator with the Right to Heal Campaign.

The Right to Heal campaign met with a staff member from
Sen. Durbin's office on Veteran Affairs to discuss the fight
against privatization and to save the VA, April 4, 2018.

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