Possible VA Pick Jeff Miller's Lobbying for Hedge Fund Billionaire Steven Cohen: 3 Things to Know

As he searches for a new nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), President Donald Trump is reportedly interviewing Jeff Miller, a congressman-turned-lobbyist who has been lobbying the administration on behalf of a hedge fund billionaire building a private veterans' mental healthcare system.

Miller, a Florida Republican, is under consideration to replace Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson as the administration's nominee to lead the VA. A former chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Miller joined D.C. lobbying firm McDermott Will & Emery after retiring from the House in 2017. Since then he has lobbied on veterans' issues for a variety of clients, including billionaire Steven Cohen, who has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building a nationwide network of private, nonprofit mental health clinics for veterans.

Three things to know about Jeff Miller and his relationship with Cohen

1. Veterans groups have worried about efforts to privatize the VA

Former VA secretary David Shulkin warned about "political appointees" pushing privatization aimed at "rewarding select people and companies with profits" in a in a New York Times op-ed. The piece was published as Shulkin was pushed out of his secretary post in March amid criticism over a taxpayer-funded european trip.

Politico has reported Miller is a "close ally" of Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), an advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers that is widely seen as the source of privatization efforts, although the group denies wanting to privatize the agency's healthcare. (The CVA did not respond to a request for comment). An early congressional backer of Trump's presidential campaign, Miller influenced Trump to move to pro-privatization policy positions in the summer of 2016, a Trump campaign aide told Politico.

Federal lobbying disclosures show Miller continued trying to influence the Trump administration after the congressman left office.

But while the CVN is a nonprofit, and the network's 13 clinics are mostly free for veterans and their families, some veterans groups worry Miller has helped Cohen build a private veterans' healthcare network that will benefit from efforts to privatize the VA.

2. Miller has lobbied the administration for CVN, and his efforts seem to be working.

Those records show Cohen hired Miller to lobby the executive branch, which would include the VA and the White House, on "efforts to increase access to mental health care for veterans." (House ethics rules ban former members from lobbying Congress directly for one year after retirement.) Since hiring five lobbyists from Miller's firm last year, Cohen has spent $340,000 on his lobbying efforts, according to lobbying records. He has also given $3 million to Republican-affiliated Super PACs this cycle. He previously chipped in a million dollars to Trump's inauguration committee.

Those lobbying efforts seem to be working. In January, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring the VA, Defense, and Homeland Security secretaries to create a joint action plan to "improve mental health care and access to suicide prevention resources" during the first year veterans transition back to civilian life, a particularly fraught time for veterans' mental health, one study has shown.

While that plan has not been released to the public, the VA announced a partnership with CVN a little more than a month after the president's executive order. The two organizations will "work together on potential mental health education initiatives, consumer marketing and public health messaging," and will "discuss potential locations for Cohen Clinics" in places with underserved veterans. But details on the partnership were scarce, and the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees wrote Shulkin to find out why the VA chose the Cohen Network "versus other provider organizations and veterans' charities."

The VA and CVN both told Newsweek that CVN was not making any money off the deal, but some veterans groups worry the plan is part of an effort to undermine the VA.

3. There's evidence that the VA provides better mental health care than the private sector.

"[Cohen's network] is just a part of people trying to chip away at the VA," Will Fischer, director of government relations for VoteVets, told Newsweek . VoteVets is a liberal veterans advocacy nonprofit. "Anybody who is like 'I'm going to try and do mental health care better than the VA' is going on a mission that is a lost cause."

A 2016 study backs up Fischer's claim. It found VA mental health care "was superior to that of the private sector by more than 30 percent," and that "the much higher performance of the VA has important clinical and policy implications."