Nearly three weeks after Hillary Clinton minimized troubles with the federal government’s treatment of veterans, the Democratic presidential candidate unveiled her policy proposals to fix "systemic" failures at the VA.
At a campaign event in New Hampshire Tuesday, Clinton discussed her plan to overhaul the VA, which involves having the department contract with private healthcare providers for various services. Clinton, however, also vowed to fight against what she labeled a "misguided, ideological crusade" by Republicans to privatize the VA.
"As we work to improve the VA, I will fight as long and hard as it takes to prevent Republicans from privatizing it as part of a misguided, ideological crusade," Clinton said at a veterans’ roundtable event in Derry one day before Veterans Day. "I will not put our veterans at the mercy of private insurance companies."
"Privatization is a betrayal, plain and simple, and I’m not going to let it happen," Clinton further stated.
Clinton told the audience that her plan would streamline the agency’s electronic health records system, eliminate the claims backlog, and ensure that the VA better serves women and does more to support military families. The Democratic candidate also promised to defend the Post-9/11 GI Bill and close the so-called 90-10 loophole.
"Today, as you know better than anyone, we are failing to keep faith with our veterans," Clinton said. "These problems are serious, systemic, and unacceptable. They need to be fixed and they need to be fixed now."
She also pledged to boost accountability at the VA but added that she believes Secretary Robert McDonald is "doing a great job" leading the agency.
Prior to Clinton’s remarks, her presidential campaign released a 12-page fact sheet outlining her policy proposals for the VA, acknowledging that the delayed healthcare and claims backlog at the federal agency "represent government at its worst" and insisting that Clinton "recognizes the gravity of these challenges."
Clinton pledged to roll out her VA policy proposals in November after receiving criticism from GOP lawmakers and veterans’ groups for claiming during an MSNBC interview that Republicans have made issues at the VA appear "more widespread" than they are in reality.
"There have been a number of surveys of veterans and, overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment," Clinton told Rachel Maddow on Oct. 23. "Nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see with the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) demanded that Clinton apologize to families of veterans who died because of mismanagement and misconduct at the VA, later predicting that veterans will "question" Clinton’s qualifications to be president in the wake of her statements.
More than one year after the 2014 fake wait list scandal, multiple reports have documented mismanagement and delayed or poor care at the VA. A VA-commissioned independent assessment concluded in September that the network of VA hospitals faces "crises in leadership and culture" that warrant "system-wide reworking."
Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said that Clinton’s comments to MSNBC prove that she "isn’t paying attention" to issues at the VA. Both McCain and Miller accused Clinton of politicizing the issue.
In the days after Clinton downplayed issues with VA hospitals, three separate reports from the agency’s inspector general documented shortfalls and mismanagement at VA facilities across the country.
Concerned Veterans for America, one of the veterans groups that criticized Clinton’s dismissal of VA issues last month, described the former secretary of state’s policy plan as devoid of "fresh ideas."
"While Mrs. Clinton references the need for ‘reform’ and ‘accountability’ at the VA, when it comes to actual policy, her plan for ‘reforming’ the VA is sorely lacking in bold ideas and meaningful solutions. Instead of putting forth proposals that would challenge the status quo and make the VA more responsive to what veterans want, Mrs. Clinton recycles the same-old tired ideas that have continually been proposed by policymakers and have failed repeatedly to fundamentally change the broken VA healthcare system," Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth said in a statement Tuesday.
"The lack of fresh ideas and innovative solutions in Mrs. Clinton’s plan, and her doubling down on the system that has failed our veterans, sends the nation a very clear message: if you liked the VA under President Obama, you will love it under President Hillary Clinton."