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Sanders: VA Problems Don't Shake Faith In Government-Run Health Programs

Angela Evancie
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a press conference in Burlington in April.

Senator Bernie Sanders says the current scandal at many Veterans Affairs health care centers across the country is not an indictment of a government-run system. Sanders says the health services available at a number of VA centers are still better than those in much of the private health care system.

As the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, Sanders has been at the center of a major controversy involving the failure of some VA centers to provide timely health care to thousands of veterans.

A recent audit by the department's inspector general’s found extensive waiting lists at many VA centers. The audit also uncovered efforts to hide the magnitude of these delays.

Sanders says he’s been a long-time supporter of the government run VA health care system.

"Independent surveys say that compared to the private sector, care once you are in the VA is pretty good." - Sen. Bernie Sanders on why he still supports a government run health care system

“Once people get into the VA, the quality of care they get is pretty good. That’s what veterans are telling me in Vermont,” said Sanders. “That’s what veterans all over the country and their organizations say and that’s kind of what independent surveys say, that compared to the private sector, care once you’re in the VA is pretty good.”

And Sanders says the very serious problems that have taken place at some VA centers are not an indication that the system itself is broken.

“So my point is what happened in Phoenix and elsewhere is horrendous, unacceptable, has to be dealt with,” said Sanders. “But we have to also understand that this is America, not everybody can walk into their doctor’s office tomorrow and get good quality, affordable health.” 

Sanders says he still believes that a government run health care system can provide high quality health care to all Americans at a lower cost than a private system.

“God didn’t create a situation where employers had to be responsible for their employees’ health care,” said Sanders. “That evolved in the United States uniquely among the world’s industrialized nations. What Canada does, what every other major country on earth does each in a different way, is say you know what health care is a right.” 

UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson says the controversy has certainly raised questions and concerns about a government run health care system.

“For Bernie, whose goal has been a federally funded single payer system of health  care, this is the model that he presumably hoped to implement,” said Nelson. “And of course for the conservatives this is very exciting because it indicates that this kind of model, a federally funded single-payer system is a disaster.”

Sanders has just introduced a bill that addresses the current situation by adding 27 new facilities and it also updates the VA’s computer system. The price tag for the legislation is $1.4 billion.

Sanders is hoping that a number of Republican senators will support the plan so that it can be considered on the Senate floor in the near future.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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