Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said Wednesday that veterans will "question" Hillary Clinton’s qualifications to become president after she downplayed problems at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
"If Hillary Clinton really believes the comments that she made, I don’t see how any veteran who cares about their fellow veterans … could support her quest for being commander in chief," McCain, a veteran himself, said on a press call in response to a question from the Washington Free Beacon.
Clinton said during an appearance on MSNBC Friday that the scandal at the VA has "not been as widespread as it has been made out to be," accusing Republicans of "berating" the federal agency and making its issues seem graver in order to pursue their "ideological agenda."
Clinton has received criticism from lawmakers, including McCain and Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), the chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who also participated in the call with reporters Wednesday. The Arizona senator on Monday called on Clinton to apologize to the families of veterans who died because of "mismanagement and corruption" at the VA, a demand he reiterated Wednesday. Veterans’ groups have also slammed Clinton for her remarks.
McCain accused Clinton of "inject[ing] her partisanship" into the debate surrounding the VA, noting that he worked across the aisle with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), Clinton’s opponent in the Democratic primary, when Sanders served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
"Bernie Sanders worked very hard when he was chair of the VA committee. He and I had disagreements, but we were able to come together," McCain said, referring to the passage of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. "He does have a record of advocacy for our veterans."
Miller said Clinton’s comments prove she is "out of touch with the challenges [veterans] face on a daily basis" and hasn’t been paying attention to continuing problems at the VA.
He pointed to several reports that show mismanagement and misconduct still exist at the VA well over a year after the 2014 fake waitlist scandal that led to the deaths of dozens of veterans. An independent assessment released in September concluded that the VA’s network of health systems needs a "system-wide reworking."
The Clinton campaign walked back the former secretary of state’s comments Monday, saying that she was "outraged" by problems at the VA and will unveil plans next month to change the VA to "make sure it truly works for our veterans."
The campaign added that Clinton believes the VA offers "unique and critical services and innovative care" to veterans and "does not believe that privatization will solve the problems that the VA is facing."
McCain said Wednesday that all presidential candidates should be talking more about the VA and that it should be a higher profile issue in the 2016 election.
"If we don’t care for those who have served and sacrificed and have been wounded in mind and body, what kind of nation are we?" the Arizona senator asked.
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.