DERRY, New Hampshire —
Hillary Clinton on Tuesday rolled out her plan to address issues within the Department of Veterans Affairs, pledging in New Hampshire to “modernize” the struggling agency and “overhaul” its governance.
Speaking at a roundtable, Clinton said the current iteration of the VA is “failing to keep faith with our veterans” and promised, as president, that she would institute a top to bottom review of the maligned agency.
“These problems are serious, systemic and unacceptable,” Clinton said. “They need to be fixed, they need to be fixed now.”
Clinton’s proposals take on an agency that an internal inspector general report found in 2014 was gripped by “systemic” issues with scheduling that caused some veterans to die while waiting for treatment. The scandal led to the resignation of then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki.
A more recent CNN investigation found the problem is actually getting worse — veterans continue to wait months for care at some VA facilities, and a September federally funded report concluded the agency remains “plagued” by problems including growing bureaucracy, staffing challenges and unsustainable costs.
“Everyone at the VA has to meet the highest standards and never forget their mission,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s plan, which her campaign outlined in detail in a fact sheet on Tuesday, would allow some private sector care, but not full privatization like some Republicans have called for, and would allow VA supervisors “to suspend or remove underperforming employees.”
“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 push,” Clinton said. “Privatization is a betrayal, plain and simple, and I am not going to let it happen.”
Clinton hit Republicans on privatization, arguing they will “seize on anything they can to help advance this goal of theirs.”
Clinton rolled out her proposal at a veterans roundtable with the Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning organization focused on national security and veterans issues, at a VFW hall in Derry, New Hampshire.
After a prepared speech, Clinton was peppered with questions on the Irar War, ISIS and how she would actually deal with the backlog of requests at the VA.
“I have said it was a mistake to go into Iraq and it was a mistake for me to give that vote to President Bush for a lot of reasons that are now obvious to us,” Clinton said in response to a question about the Iraq War, which she voted to authorize in 2002. “A lot of mistakes were made.”
In front of the veterans, Clinton ruled out boots on the ground against ISIS — the terrorist group “will have to be dealt with first and foremost by the people in the area themselves, she said — and said she would not declare war on radical Islam as president.
“I, at this point, would not,” she said. “I am not ready to say we will need a declaration of war to” combat them.
After telling MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last month that issues within the VA have “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be” — a comment that was blasted by Republicans and Democrats — Clinton has regularly used the word “systemic” to describe the issues within the VA.
Clinton’s VA plan addresses the waitlist issues by proposing combining Department of Defense and VA medical evaluations, allowing some “rules-based automatic adjudication” for simple applications and providing veterans with an appeals process to challenge the VA when they think their health claims are unfairly denied.
Clinton also pledged to end the backlog of disability benefits and appeals by allowing more overtime work within the agency.
“Lets just tackle it like we would tackle and serious challenge facing our country,” she said.
As president, according to the fact sheet, Clinton would push for more coordination between the Veterans Health Administration and other insurance providers and allow some private sector care “when it makes sense to do so” or “when the VA cannot provide timely access to necessary care.”
Clinton will pledged on Tuesday to be more vigilant in monitoring the VA. Clinton’s plan included establishing a new oversight governance board and will promise to “personally convene the Secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Defense regularly in the Oval Office.”
And on veteran suicides, something she speaks about regularly on the trail, Clinton proposed increasing funding for mental health providers and training within the VA and expanding programs for “veterans that have participated in classified or sensitive missions without compromising non-disclosure requirements.”
Clinton’s proposal also moves to address veteran homelessness by increasing funding for the problem and making the post-9/11 GI bill, which provided increased benefits to new veterans, permanent for both veterans and their families.
Clinton currently has no plans to campaign Wednesday on Veterans Day, but Gen. Wesley Clark, retired four-star general and former NATO supreme allied commander Europe, will headline four events for Clinton throughout Iowa.
Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic nomination, served on the Senate Veterans Committee and helped pass a bill with Sen. John McCain to reform that VA.
And former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his veterans plan Monday, promising to increase “transparency, accountability And outcomes” by increasing scrutiny on the administration.