I know it’s hard to keep up with the evils of the Trump administration, but please don’t miss this report about Trump’s cronies dictating policy at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Russia saga is a crucially important story, but it still soaks up more media oxygen than it’s worth—leaving less room to cover truly horrific crimes like throwing kids in cages or enabling a paramilitary force to use gestapo tactics to remove as many nonwhite folks as possible from the country. But this new report is a story that should not get lost in the pit of misery in which we currently reside.
Per Isaac Arnsdorf at ProPublica:
Last February, shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA. “Received,” O’Rourke replied. “I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action.”
O’Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss. In fact, he is not even a government official. Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care.
More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.
A former administration official said that “everyone has to go down [to Mar-a-Lago] and kiss the ring.”
This is abhorrent. Not only do we stage endless wars in order to line the pockets of Lockheed Martin executives, but we have an utterly incompetent VA system back home that has demonstrated that it is unable to properly treat every wounded veteran. That was the case before we elected an outright kleptocrat into the Oval Office. Now, life and death decisions for the troops are being made by old stodgy Trump supporters in the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago who don’t even understand how the VA works, as this passage proves:
It wasn’t long before the Mar-a-Lago Crowd wore out their welcome with [VA Secretary David] Shulkin. They advised him on how to do his job even though they sometimes seemed to lack a basic understanding of it. Just after their first meeting, Moskowitz emailed Shulkin again to say, “Congratulations i was unanimous.” Shulkin corrected him: “Bruce- this was not the confirmation vote- it was a committee vote- we still need a floor vote.”
And of course, these greedy old men used their power in the VA to serve their own monetary interests:
The event also turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter’s company. Executives from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, joined Johnson & Johnson as sponsors of the Veterans Day event at the stock exchange. Shulkin rang the closing bell standing near a preening and flexing Captain America, with Spider-Man waving from the trading pit, and Marvel swag distributed to some of the attendees. “Generally the VA secretary or defense secretary don’t shill for companies,” the leader of a veterans advocacy group said.
Shocking no one who pays attention to politics, the same folks who act like Colin Kaepernick violated one of the Ten Commandments by kneeling during the national anthem have been completely silent on this report. The truth of the matter is that many Trump supporters are totally fine disrespecting the troops so long as the person doing so has the right skin color (white) and political ideology. When it comes to matters of life and death, Trump’s grift with his Mar-a-Lago VIPs would likely be portrayed as a good thing to the Fox & Friends cultists, because Dear Leader can do no wrong.
I rewrote that last paragraph multiple times, and that’s as dignified as I can be about this monstrosity. Frankly, the true rage this story requires is unfit to print in our traditional media atmosphere. Respectability politics has no answer to farming out veteran health care to the the Marvel cinematic universe owner’s uninformed whims. It’s bad enough living in a country which exploits the patriotism and heroism of those willing to sacrifice their lives—an exploitation done in order to line the pockets of countless grifters ranging from defense contractors to fucking air freshener manufacturers—but this report is truly on another level.
Real talk: this country by and large doesn’t give a shit about the troops past them being political props for whatever cause we want to promote. If we cared about the troops as much as we claim to, the nightmare at the VA would have become a political priority for our elected representatives over the past few decades. Once we learned from the VA that the backlog may have led to the deaths of 307,000 veterans, we should have been protesting in the streets given our professed devotion to the troops.
We didn’t take to the streets, and the political reality around the VA clearly hasn’t changed one bit despite each new harrowing report from the VA itself, and now the worst person this country has produced over the last century is overseeing the never-ending nightmare that is the health care experience of a wounded combat veteran coming back to “the greatest country in the world.”
Let’s hope that this kleptocratic scandal will force Americans to be truly introspective about the actual impact of our supposed devotion to our combat veterans outside their ability to kill the bad guys who haunt our psyches far more than our reality, but given the relative silence in comparison to the gravity of this despicable scandal, I wouldn’t hold my breath. This country has been fundamentally broken for decades and the man at the top is making it worse.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.