- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Two top congressional Republicans who have worked closely on Department of Veterans Affairs issues slammed former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday for her recent remarks that the issues at the beleaguered agency are not as “widespread” as they have been made out to be.

“I don’t know what Hillary Clinton’s view of what widespread is, but facts are stubborn things,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. McCain pointed out as examples that the VA deputy secretary recently admitted there are nearly 500,000 appointments with extended wait times, which include appointments with delays of more than 30 days, and that the VA’s inspector general has found that as many as 307,000 veterans have died waiting for care in recent years.

“If that’s not quote, widespread, I would like to know what Hillary Clinton’s definition of widespread is,” Mr. McCain said on a conference call.

Extensive problems at the Phoenix VA hospital in Mr. McCain’s home state, including allegations of secret wait lists for veterans who died waiting for care, helped kick off a concerted effort to address problems within the department and the system about a year and a half ago.

Mrs. Clinton said last week on MSNBC that the problem at the VA has “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be,” and also suggested that Republicans were being less-than-helpful partners in trying to fix the agency.

But Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the VA mess is one issue where both sides have come together, pointing out, for example, that his committee has issued five different sets of subpoenas for information and witnesses, all of them on unanimous votes.

“This is going to take a push from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats,” Mr. Miller said. “You know, the interesting thing about what Hillary has done is she has interjected politics into this discussion, and we try very hard not to make the issue of veterans benefits and what needs to be done political.”

In the interview, Mrs. Clinton had also said the issue is a perfect example of Republicans trying to have it both ways, saying the GOP tries to create a “downward spiral” in such programs, such as Medicare and Social Security as well, in order to push for privatization.

“And these are fights we’ve been having for 70, 80 years now. So we cannot grow weary in the face of these ideological assaults on basic fundamental services, whether it’s the VA, Medicare, Social Security,” she said. “But we have to be more creative about trying to fix the problems that are the legitimate concern, so that we can try to stymie the Republican assault.”

The revelations of secret wait lists and other widespread problems at the VA led to the resignation of former Secretary Eric Shinseki in May 2014. Since then, VA Secretary Bob McDonald has taken over and Congress has advanced legislation designed to make it easier to fire VA employees and to make it easier for veterans to obtain health care outside the VA system.

Mr. McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, said the comments call into question Mrs. Clinton’s case to be commander-in-chief.

“Commander-in-chief not only sends young men and women into conflicts, but [the] commander-in-chief also has an obligation, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated, about our care for the widows and the wounded,” he said. “So I would say that a veteran looking at her comments would question her qualifications to be commander-in-chief.”

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN Tuesday that the Democratic presidential front-runner’s remarks were being “misinterpreted.”

“[Hillary Clinton] will work to further reform the VA to make sure it truly works for our veterans, and will demand accountability and performance from VA leadership,” he told the network.

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