Presidential hopeful Ben Carson's comments suggesting the Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.
On a national radio show Thursday, Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.
"There is a lot of stuff we're doing that doesn't make any sense," he said. "We don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense."
Carson said he wants to provide all veterans with health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care and reserve defense-run veterans clinics for highly specialized care, like traumatic brain injury treatment and limb replacements.
Just a few hours after the remarks, leaders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars blasted the proposals as harmful to veterans.
"To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own … and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day," VFW National Commander John Biedrzyck said in a statement.
"(VA) provides an irreplaceable service to the nation's wounded, ill and injured veterans, and my organization will not let any candidate for any office suggest anything otherwise."
Officials at Wounded Warrior Project said they will not endorse or condemn any candidates, but said Carson's proposal "would not constitute a good path forward" for veterans.
"While the VA certainly has significant challenges, it also plays a vital role for our nation's veterans and their families," the group said in a statement. "The system must be improved, not eliminated, and now is the time to be looking for innovative solutions such as private/public partnerships between VA and civilian or academic health care providers."
In a lengthy online essay, Paralyzed Veterans of America Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. called the plan "a misguided notion born from ignorance of what each department does."
"Those who insist 'we don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs' are likely people who in fact do not need VA care because of good health or cannot access VA care due to ineligibility, as is the case with Dr. Carson," he wrote.
"However, frustration in reaction to problems in VA combined with ignorance about what VA does and how it works are not the ingredients for a recipe of success where fixing the department is concerned."
VoteVets.org — a left-leaning lobbying group which has attacked Republican candidates for trying to "privatize" VA health care — called the remarks "insulting" to veterans.
"When men and women enlist, we, as a nation, make a pact with them that they will be guaranteed care when they come home," said Paul Eaton, senior adviser to the group. "Rather than think of ways to nickel and dime our veterans, Dr. Carson should be thinking of other areas of fat in government — particularly in defense contracts — that can be cut."
Carson received similar criticism from veterans groups in spring 2014, when he called the VA's care delay scandals "a gift from God" because it showed the weakness of government efforts to provide health care for veterans.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.