Democratic primary runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders denied that the Department of Veterans Affairs provided bad healthcare during a Navy SEAL's confirmation hearing.
Sen. Sanders (I., Vt.) questioned President-elect Donald Trump's interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke about his views on the state of Native American healthcare and well being on Tuesday. Zinke, a Navy commander and the first Navy SEAL to serve in the House of Representatives, agreed that the federal government should respect Native American sovereignty and work to ensure that treaties and existing law is followed before moving on to Sanders' question about the poor healthcare outcomes in Native American-controlled land.
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"As bad as the VA is," Zinke began.
Sanders interrupted Zinke, a U.S. Navy commander who served on SEAL Team 6, the famed anti-terrorism unit that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, to dispute that the VA had any problems.
"Some of us don't accept that," Sanders said.
Zinke continued outlining his plan to address Native American issues before addressing issues regarding the handling of federal public lands—his chief responsibility if he is confirmed as the secretary of the interior.
The VA has been embroiled in scandal since it was revealed that the agency had covered up lengthy delays in treatment that led to the deaths of veterans awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital. The whistleblower reports about Arizona' fake wait list led to additional exposés about inefficiencies and budgetary issues that have contributed to the deaths of American veterans. It was revealed in November that a VA hospital had infected or exposed 600 veterans to Hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV—the disease that leads to AIDs—due to poor dental care.
This is not the first time that Sanders has defended the VA in spite of reports of the agency failing veterans. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, the socialist senator attempted to explain away the deaths of patients as a Koch brothers conspiracy in May 2014.
"There is, right now, as we speak, a concerted effort to undermine the VA," Sanders said.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned his post in the wake of the scandal. An inspector general report found that the same Phoenix hospital had contributed to the death of at least one other patient even after the resignation.
While Sanders defended the department on the campaign trail President-elect Donald Trump blasted the agency for mistreating American servicemen. He pledged to clean up the department, promising, "No more long drives. No more waiting backlogs. No more excessive red tape. Just the care and support they earned with their service to our country."
The exchange between Sanders and Zinke can be viewed here.