Pelosi Remarks at Veterans Health Care Action Campaign Forum
San Francisco – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Michael Blecker, Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares, veterans and leaders of veterans advocacy groups at the Veterans Health Care Action Campaign Forum. Below is a transcript of the Leader’s remarks:
“Thank you, everyone. Thank you Michael [Blecker] for your great leadership and your kind words of welcome. Thank you Paul Cox for your leadership as well, to be here with you and Michael Blecker, of course with Suzanne Gordon, we’ll all be looking forward to her speech, and Edgar Escobar thank you for your leadership. I also want to acknowledge my daughter, Christine Pelosi who is here, she is a member of the Democratic National Committee, and she was the leader in insisting they have Veterans desk at the Democratic National Committee.
“Michael will tell you he wrote the dissenting view on Commission on Care. I was so very grateful. I’m so very, very proud of him, I’ve seen his work for decades – as Paul has mentioned he’s been working with Swords to Plowshares for a long time, so I’ve been aware of his leadership for a long time on behalf of our vets. So, I was very honored recently to appoint him to the Commission on Care, but even earlier than that to our regular meeting with Veteran Service Organizations, going back to when I first became Leader almost a dozen years ago, and then Speaker, and then Leader again.
“But Michael when he would come, I would say, ‘I’d like to introduce you to a saint.’ He would blush as he’s blushing now, but not for long. He would soon speak up on behalf of veterans there. We had our most recent meeting just about a week or so ago before we broke for Easter and Passover, and I want to say it was as usual very informative, a very strong meeting but this time very much focused, and that is a decision by the vets.
“At this meeting, we focused on women veterans and the rising list of concerns that we have for women veterans. That’s a very large and growing, number as well. But we always take our agenda from what the veterans bring, going back to our first meeting. We talked about the Veteran’s Disability Tax in Congress, issues the relate to Survivor Benefits. You name it, just a full array of issues, but saying to you prioritize, we’ll act upon it.
“When we had the Majority [in Congress], we were able to allocate the resources necessary to implement some of the policy that we were able to achieve earlier. I was very proud of all of the – I’ll put up a self-serving sign – when I was introduced the Commander said what I had done as Speaker was recognized more than any other Speaker in terms of meeting the needs of veterans since the GI Bill. So we’re very, very excited about that. It’s a recognition of your work.
“But I am here today to listen, that’s definitely the most valuable thing. I learn more when I listen than when I speak. And I come here to listen to your concerns, but I want to put it in this context.
“A couple days ago we had a social media call where we meet with all of the groups – RoadVets, Daily Kos, Move On, Planned Parenthood, all these groups – about how we can protect the Affordable Care Act. Well in the meantime Syria intervened, so our veterans were an even stronger voice, they’re always strong, but we had more questions for them on the call. And at the end of the call they said, ‘We’re talking about vets, and we’re talking about the VA, that’s very important to us, but our veterans need to go beyond the VA.’
“It’s about housing and how HUD is funded, it’s about mental health, it’s about the Affordable Care Act and other issues. It’s about Medicaid, it’s about Opioids which is about the Medicaid solution that we have in our legislation and so they said, ‘there are so many other things that effect our well-being, as important as the VA is one of the most important things that affects us is we like to have peace, so we can get well.’
“Because as we know, and you’ve heard it over and over, you’ve said it yourself – when you’re on the battle field you leave no soldier behind, and when they come home we leave no veteran behind. That is our mantra, and you have to help us make that happen.
“Because as Michael said, when he was named to this Commission the issue is they’re not listening to vets, they’re just talking to each other. And this threat loomed large during the Presidential campaign, privatizing the VA is a real threat. We will not let them make money off of delivering health care to our veterans and that’s a promise.
“We’ve got to move our own health care system to a more nonprofit place, rather than moving our Veterans Health Administration to a ‘Let’s make more off our Vets’ place.
“So in our meeting, a group that represents nobody but has money from somebody, Conservative Veterans of America, I don’t think anyone here is part of it, but if you are I want you to heard what I have to say – the VA and Veterans Services Organizations are unified. Now, having said that, if we’re going to address concerns that we have, making delivery of service better – do we recognize how that fits very much in our health care system and how we need other things – need other things.
“I had one of those penchants this morning, we planted a garden to start the construction of the barrier and net at the Golden Gate Bridge. We spent a lot of time with families who have lost their loved one – taking their own lives. We know that that is an increasing problem across the board in our country, including among our veterans. So, our mental health issues are very, very important, and in fact, we’re very dismayed that our colleagues across the aisle did not make addressing mental health issues – they took off of the list of things that must be done.
“So, let’s look up here: Veterans’ Health Care Action Campaign. Veterans – it’s about our veterans’ health care. They’re taking action and having a campaign. Understand this very clearly: nothing is more eloquent to a Member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituents. You’re my bosses, or if you’re not in my district, you’re somebody else’s bosses. So, let your voice be known to them, as well. Your experience is the wisdom that we need to make the decisions when we have choices to make. Of all of the things President Trump has done, one thing I am happy about is his choice for Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs – the secretary there. So far, so good. Wouldn’t you say? So far, so good – because we thought for sure he was going to put a privatizer at the head of the VA, and that would’ve been very problematic. We’ll see how we go from there.
“A couple of other thoughts – just to say, today – this spring is the 100th anniversary since our entry into World War I, 75 years since the Bataan Death March, 14 years since the invasion of Iraq. So sad. So sad. And, so many veterans are coming home. So, we are getting hundreds of thousands of servicemembers each year – becoming veterans, challenging our system. Over 70 percent of our nation’s 21 million are over the age of 45, including the majority of veterans in San Francisco. As I mentioned, many more women, and we need to address [each] of those concerns – and that’s why we have regular veterans service organizations’ meetings, and that’s why I am here to hear what you have to say, on the ongoing but as a group here today.
“Again, we are very concerned about this issue of privatization. Privatization can virtually end the guarantee – end the guarantee of free health care for those who have served. Privatization would see the VA’s doors closed for most of its 366,000 employees, a third of whom are veterans themselves – 100,000 of the workers in the VA are vets. While ensuring the VA can better coordinate care in a community where there are gaps, we have to be smart, we have to be cautious. Nearly one-third percent of care is already provided outside of the VA – you know that. Increasing the amount of care outside of the VA could have negative impacts on comprehensive and specialty care. There are just some things the VA knows better – combat related injuries and the rest. There are just some things they can diagnose more readily, care for with experience in having cared for others. At the VA, veterans are treated as a whole person. That is the only service-connected, comprehensive care culture that provides unparalleled, personal medical expertise.
“We must lift, not load. VA privatization is not the answer. I look forward to our forum and debunking the myth of what veterans’ choice really means – what that really means. We have to hold our bedrock promise. Again, just as the military leaves no one behind on the battlefield, we must leave no veteran behind when they come. That is our promise – not only that, it is our values system, it is an ethical commitment that we have to you. You make us the home of the brave and the land of the free. And while we’re doing that, we have to also consider what they’re doing in the budget. The budget should be a statement of our national values. What is important to us as a nation should be reflected in our budget. When veterans come from [overseas], we need the biomedical research, we need these other things that they are cutting because this is something that we all benefit from. So, as a statement of our values, our veterans are not at that place – the place that we want them to be.
“So, it’s pretty exciting to see right now – learn our lesson from the March on Washington, which many of you participated in, all over the world, in every continent. What was good about it was: it was spontaneous. It wasn’t organized by politicians and elected officials. It was spontaneous, and different groups joined in. And what was good about it too is that when it came time, the airports and the bans and this and that – people showed up at the steps of the Supreme Court. People showed up. And when the Affordable Care Act was under a threat – under a threat with a bill that they called an ‘act of mercy.’ It was really an act of malice in what it did to working families in our country. The biggest transfer of wealth – the Republican bill was the biggest – I used a partisan word, please forgive me – the biggest transfer of wealth in the history of our country. Robin Hood in reverse – $600 or more, $600 billion lifted from middle income families and those who aspire to the middle class to the wealthiest people in our country.
“So, as we gather here to talk about this, it comes down to budget. It comes down to budget – how we’re going to allocate resources. And that’s why they want to move to privatize and say ‘we’re going to save money.’ No, we’re here to save lives and to improve the quality of care in the lives, to honor the vision of our Founders: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We want people to have a healthier life and the liberty to pursue their happiness. And when we do whatever we do, it has to be to honor the values of our Founders, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform – they are right there on par with other leaders – and of course, the aspirations of our children.
“So, thank you for all that you have done for our country, for your leadership, for your service and for your concern, not only about you but for so many other veterans as they come back home. Thank you all very much for [giving me] the time to share some thoughts with you. I look forward to hearing what you all have to say. Thank you all very much.”