By Frances Rice
As many as 300,000 veterans have died waiting for care in recent years, but Hillary Clinton thinks the problem is “not as widespread as it has been made out to be.” To view statistical details about the horrendous problem at the VA, see the results of RNC research: Not A “Widespread” Problem?
Now, the backlash against Hillary is coming from across the political spectrum . Senator John McCain called on her to apologize. Jeff Miller, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, accused Hillary of “shortchanging veterans.” Even Ann Kirkpatrick, the liberal Obama rubber stamp, is pushing back as is shown in the below report from The Arizona Republic.
Hillary Clinton's take on VA crisis spurs backlash
Clinton says veterans are satisfied and VA woes are "not as bad as it has been made out."
By Dennis Wagner
A declaration by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton that the national crisis in care for American military veterans has been overblown by Republicans has stirred a backlash from advocacy groups and members of Congress from both major political parties.
During an appearance Friday on MSNBC, Clinton was asked by interviewer Rachel Maddow whether she had new ideas on how to solve patient-care and scheduling problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Clinton did not answer the question directly but said surveys indicate veterans are happy with their care and that she believes the scandal has "not been as bad as it has been made out to be."
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said in a written statement Monday that anyone who denies rampant problems in the VA "isn't paying attention."
"Whether it's continued delays in veterans' medical care, the blatant waste of billions of taxpayer dollars or a rampant lack of accountability throughout every corner of the organization, there is simply no denying that the problems of the Department of Veterans Affairs are indeed widespread," Miller said. "The VA scandal was caused by dishonest bureaucrats who chose to whitewash the department's problems rather than solve them. Those who repeat that same shameful pattern of behavior are only shortchanging veterans."
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., issued a terse, written demand for an apology: “Hillary Clinton's remarks ... show a total lack of appreciation for the crisis facing veterans’ health care today. Secretary Clinton owes an apology to the families of the veterans who lost their loved ones due to mismanagement and corruption in the federal government.”
Clinton and her campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In the MSNBC interview, Clinton said opinion surveys show that, "overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment. ... Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans."
Clinton possibly was referring to a 2013 study, commissioned by the VA, that said 83 percent of patients admitted to veterans hospitals reported a satisfactory experience. The poll did not include those receiving outpatient services or those who were unable to get treatment at all. In a Gallup poll last year, 55 percent of military veterans said getting VA care is somewhat difficult or very difficult.
The VA scandal erupted in April 2014 when employees at the Phoenix veterans hospital blew the whistle on dangerous delays in patient appointments, phony wait-time data and corrupt management practices. Internal investigations and congressional probes verified the breakdown was not just an Arizona issue, but pervasive throughout the VA's more than 1,500 hospitals and clinics.
The Office of Inspector General concluded that hundreds of thousands of patients were subjected to unacceptable delays in care, and many died while awaiting appointments; wait-time records were falsified or inaccurate at 70 percent of the VA facilities nationwide; and department leadership was contaminated by bullying, reprisal and a lack of accountability. The public furor forced out VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and other administrators, while prompting the largest reform in department history.
All of those issues were aired before Miller's committee, and also before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which then was chaired by Bernie Sanders, Clinton's chief Democratic rival in the presidential campaign. Sanders, of Vermont, did not respond to an interview request for this story.
Clinton contended in her MSNBC appearance that conservatives want to shut down the VA and replace it with a private-care system for veterans. She said the GOP exaggerated departmental flaws and failings "in pursuit of this ideological agenda," and have underfunded the VA because "they want it to fail."
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, an Arizona Democrat, disagreed.
"The problems we've seen at the Phoenix VA are devastating and real," she said in a e-mailed statement. "The VA scandal has nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with systemic failure, negligence and lack of accountability."
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said veterans and families who suffered awaiting care would be "appalled" by Clinton's perspective.
Flake noted that the Department of Veterans Affairs received $16.3 billion in emergency funding last year in a reform package backed by Democrats and Republicans. Adding that veterans have died awaiting care, he said Clinton's comments are "extremely unfortunate because this has been a bipartisan effort."
Dan Caldwell, legislative and political director with Concerned Veterans for America, said the Clinton commentary was a shock.
"I couldn't believe someone could be that tone-deaf and ignorant of a problem that runs throughout the whole VA system. Especially someone running for president," Caldwell said.
The conservative CVA is pushing a reform measure that would dramatically reduce the VA's size and mission. However, Caldwell said, those changes were proposed after the VA's failed care system was exposed, and his group has never advocated abolishing the department.
"This is a scandal driven by the VA's own incompetence and refusal to embrace reform," he said.