Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Rejection of VA Privatization Branded 'Crazy, Outlandish' Attention Seeking by Retired General

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has once again come under attack from conservatives, this time for saying that the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs is not broken, and still provides high-quality care to veterans.

In comments reported by The Washington Examiner, Ocasio-Cortez told voters at a town hall event in her district that privatization of the agency was no way to address the long-standing administrative and funding problems facing the agency.

"All I can think of is that classic refrain that my parents always taught me growing up: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" she said. "That is the opening approach we have seen when it comes to privatization, it's the idea that this thing that isn't broken, this thing that provides some of the highest quality care to our veterans somehow needs to be fixed, optimized, tinkered with until we don't even recognize it anymore.

"They are trying to fix the VA for pharmaceutical companies, they are trying to fix the VA for insurance corporations and, ultimately, they are trying to fix the VA for a for-profit health care industry that does not put people or veterans first," Ocasio-Cortez said. "And so we have a responsibility to protect it."

Some conservative commentators quickly seized upon her comments, accusing the New York congresswoman of using the VA issue to promote her progressive politics and raise her national profile.

Speaking with Fox Business host Trish Reagan on Tuesday, author and retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata accused Ocasio-Cortez of making "the most outlandish statements she can because she knows it garners media attention.

"She knows that the currency in today's social media age is momentum, and she has to maintain momentum of saying crazy, outlandish things," he told Fox News.

Ocasio-Cortez "neither cares nor knows about the Veterans' Administration," Tata said, using the former name of the agency, "or veterans. She makes a statement simply because it's her shtick."

Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez's communications director, told Newsweek he thought "it was clear what the congresswoman was saying. What she was saying is privatization of the VA will not help veterans, that privatization will only help the health care companies. What we need to do is to fully fund the VA, build more facilities and increase the service coverage that veterans are getting."

Asked about the fierce backlash from the right, Trent replied: "Am I surprised that the right-wing and Republican representatives spin her words to make her sound like she's saying something different than she said? No, because they're scared to death of the message she is bringing and the only way they can combat it is not by saying something that they believe, but by saying nonsense."

Some conservatives have proposed privatization of the agency, which for years has grappled with scandals. Under President Barack Obama in 2014, for example, it was revealed that many veterans were facing delays to health care and had been placed on secret waiting lists, with some patients dying while waiting for treatment. In subsequent years, the department's struggles with wait times have continued.

As part of last year's VA Mission Act, new standards will come into force in June that will allow between 1.5 and 2.1 million VA patients to go outside the federal system and seek care from private-sector doctors at the expense of taxpayers, Military Times reported. Around 600,000 are currently eligible to do that.

Proponents of the new system argue that veterans will be given more choices and have faster access to much-needed care, but opponents suggest it is a form of creeping privatization that would allow private companies to drain federal funds.

Tata laid out the bleak situation facing thousands of veterans, for whom the suicide rate is far higher than for the general population. "Twenty-two veterans a day kill themselves, several waiting for health care; that's a known statistic. And in 2014, 7,400 veterans killed themselves, many waiting for health care. That's 18 percent of the people that year that committed suicide when veterans are less than 1 percent of the population.

"For anybody to say that the Veterans' Administration is not broken, they just flat do not know what they are talking about. They've not been to a Veterans' Administration hospital, they've not talked to veterans," Tata said.

This article has been updated to include comments from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's office.

AOC VA privatization
In this file photo, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on April 10, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images