Hillary Clinton brushed off the complaints voiced by many veterans over the Department of Veterans Affairs’ backlog and health care scandal when she said on Friday that the problems plaguing the agency are not as “widespread” as they have been made out to be by Republicans, who the Democratic presidential candidate said are pushing the issue in pursuit of an “ideological agenda.”
Clinton was asked about the VA’s backlog issues during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The host pointed out that many Republicans have pushed the idea of privatizing the VA. She said that the proposal resonates because the problems with the VA system appear intractable and “can’t get fixed fast enough.”
“I don’t understand why we have such a problem,” Clinton began. But instead of addressing why the VA has had such problems providing health care to veterans, Clinton blamed Republicans for unfairly attacking the agency.
“There have been a number of surveys of veterans, and overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment,” she said.
She added: “Nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in part, in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.”
The VA scandal that erupted last year led to the forced resignation of VA Sec. Gen. Eric Shinseki. Under his watch, veterans experienced bloated wait times to see a doctor. Others were put on secret waiting lists as a way for hospitals to appear to comply with the VA’s requirement that patients see a doctor within two weeks of scheduling an appointment. The VA’s inspector general released a report last month in which it says it found that 307,000 veterans have died while waiting on wait lists before receiving health care.
An audit conducted last year found that 57,000 veterans had waited more than 90 days for their scheduled appointments. And approximately 70 percent of VA facilities maintained off-the-books waiting lists for patients.
During their interview, Maddow interrupted Clinton to tell her that the scandal is legitimate and that many VA patients have been backlogged. Clinton acknowledged that fact, but downplayed it further.
“There has been, but it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be,” Clinton said.
Reviews for the VA have been mixed.
A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that while 30 percent of veterans said that receiving care at VA facilities was “easy” or “somewhat easy,” 55 percent said it was difficult. A poll conducted earlier this year by the group Concerned Veterans for America found that 88 percent of veterans who responded said that they should have more options other than the VA for health care. That includes treatment from private hospitals and physicians.
On the other hand, another poll conducted last year found that the satisfaction ratings for VA hospitals were on par with those in the private sector.
Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, released a statement on Saturday responding to Clinton’s remarks.
“Mrs. Clinton is clearly out of touch with reality when it comes to veterans’ needs, and despite her self-professed lack of understanding of VA issues, is more interested in defending the status quo and entrenched special interests than in actually advocating for the reforms veterans want,” he said.
“Veteran-centered reform will only happen when politicians acknowledge the widespread institutional rot at the VA. With her comments Friday, Mrs. Clinton has shown that she is part of the problem, not the solution.”