The 2014 scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs was one of the few instances of genuine bipartisan outrage. An internal Veteran Affairs investigation revealed that approximately 120,000 enrolled veterans had to either wait at least 90 days to receive an appointment (57,436) or never received a requested appointment (63,869).
Almost a thousand veterans died due to negligence from 2001 to 2014. We know this because Veterans Affairs paid $200 million in wrongful death payments to their families. To put that number in perspective, that is almost half the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 (2,356 Americans).
The real number is likely to be higher because the families have to go through an administrative review process before they can file a lawsuit. This process can take months. It is hard to get an attorney to begin the process because the families can only win actual, and not punitive, damages.
Since the VA scandal broke in 2014, the VA has kept a monthly tally of the number of appointments completed within 30 days. In May 2014, the first month on record, the VA completed 4,676,707 appointments. In that month, 75,340 appointments were only completed after more than 30 days. In May 2016, the VA completed 4,877,166 appointments. Of those, 160,625 took place only after more than 30 days. All together from May 2014 to June 2016, 3,696,989 appointments took more than 30 days to complete. This is a national disgrace.
When Hillary Clinton was asked in a primary debate how she would reform the VA, she said:
“Well, first of all, I’m absolutely against privatizing the VA. And I am going do everything I can to build on the reforms that Senator Sanders and others in Congress have passed to try to fix what’s wrong with the VA. There are a lot of issues about wait times and services that have to be fixed because our veterans deserve nothing but the best.”
In 2014, Congress passed a law that allowed veterans to have choice cards if they lived more than 40 miles from a VA facility and have been waiting more than 30 days.
I don’t want our next president to build on the failure of Bernie Sanders and others in Congress. It didn’t work. The situation is worse in 2016 than 2014.
Hillary won’t provide more veterans with a choice because the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) opposes any reform. This union represents 220,000 workers in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Overall, this public sector union has 670,000 members working for the federal government and the District of Columbia.
No Democrat can afford to challenge public sector unions by supporting competition against them. Donald Trump and the Republicans believe that veterans should not have to wait in line.
I think our veterans should be able to use their benefits to go to any hospital. At a minimum, any compromise in Congress should allow any veteran who lives more than 40 miles from a VA hospital to go wherever they want. They shouldn’t have to wait 30 days.
How Donald Trump and Jeb Bush Can Reform the VA
When the VA scandal broke in 2014, there were bipartisan calls for then Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. After he resigned, Peter Hannaford and I wrote an article in The American Spectator, warning that once Shinseki resigned, there would be a “mission accomplished” feeling in the media and the story would “slowly leave the front pages.”
Peter and I thought that General Shinseki was a patriot. In Vietnam, he even lost part of his foot when he stepped on a land mine. We believed that this man served our country for 38 years in the Army with distinction and deserved a chance to end his career by reforming the department. At the time, Peter and I wrote:
If the President had kept Shinseki at his post, the administration would have been forced to produce real reforms. Without public pressure from the media, there will be no progress on reforming the bureaucracy. A new person at the job will lose bureaucratic fights if the President and Congress are not fully engaged in a determined effort to change the culture at the Veterans Department.
We can’t make the same mistake again. We need a secretary with a big media profile to keep the pressure on the VA to reform.
Jeb Bush’s name, and his known dislike for Donald Trump, would give this story the potential drama necessary to keep this story on the front pages long enough to generate momentum for real reform.
That is why I think that Donald Trump should nominate Jeb Bush as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Unlike on immigration, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump are in full agreement on cleaning up the bureaucracy and expanding veterans’ choice to combat the wait times. During his campaign, Jeb Bush told the Washington Examiner:
“If a veteran wants to be able to see his own private doctor, it should be easier to do it. Lessons learned in my experience as governor is, if you give people choice, if you give parents choice for options in education rather than telling them where they have to go, all schools get better. The way life works, and it would work to empower veterans to give them the kind of quality that they deserve, but it would create some tension and pressure for the VA to be able to provide better services.”
Even if there were just rumors that Donald Trump was willing to appoint Jeb Bush as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, it would signal to the establishment that any Republican has a chance to work for the administration if he/she will carry out President Trump’s policies. Jeb Bush would also make it easier to peak the media’s interests on the Veterans Administration.
Jeb knows that Hillary will not stand up to AFGE and other public sector unions. For all their disagreements, Jeb knows that Donald Trump supports veteran’s choice and that Hillary is worse than Trump on holding bureaucrats accountable.
Every faction in the Republican Party needs to unite for Hillary Clinton to be defeated. As President Eisenhower once said, “Never send a battalion to take a hill if a regiment is available.”
Ronald Reagan united the Republican Party after the 1980 primaries in part by giving jobs to George Bush and other establishment Republicans. Many establishment Republicans today would rather help the Democrats win the election than lose their status once Trump is elected.
There aren’t enough appointments for both the establishment Republicans and Trump’s supporters. Donald needs to make establishment Republicans feel that there is a possibility for some of them to have jobs and for the rest of them to have access to a Trump administration.
If Hillary wins, the status quo will remain and more veterans will die. At least, Donald Trump will try to push for reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs.