Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump described the current Department of Veterans Affairs as a corrupt disaster and promised a massive expansion of veterans’ private medical care options in a campaign speech Monday afternoon.
His remarks included a new 10-point plan for reforming the 330,000-person bureaucracy, including a 24-hour hotline in the White House for VA complaints and a dramatic expansion of mental health care offerings for both veterans and troubled civilians.
"We made a promise, and we have to honor the promise we made to these heroes: You will defend America, and America will defend you," Trump said in his Virginia Beach, Virginia, remarks.
"But that promise has been broken by our politicians like so many others. … We have to get on the ball, we have to get it right."
Expanding private medical care options for veterans has been a goal for congressional Republicans and GOP candidates, but estimates for what such care would cost have varied wildly. Officials from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget have estimated Trump’s VA promises could top $500 billion over the next decade.
But Trump argued that billions in savings will come when he becomes president, promising a full review into past cases of waste and fraud in the department.
"The VA spent $8 million on solar panels for a facility knowing they would likely need to be torn down," he said, citing recent media reports. "The St. Cloud, Minnesota, VA built a $2.3 million wind turbine in April 2011 that hasn’t supplied power since 2012. Can you imagine the waste and corruption we’ll find when we begin a full investigation in January of 2017?"
Trump promised to appoint a new Veterans Affairs secretary "who will make it his or her personal mission to clean up the VA. The secretary’s sole mandate will be to serve our veterans, not bureaucrats, not politicians."
He also followed up those comments with a direct shot at current VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who has been endorsed as a potential hold-over Cabinet member by the Republican heads of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committees. The House chairman, Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, introduced Trump at Monday’s speech.
The Trump plan was immediately decried by individuals supporting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who called it
pandering — promises without any realistic strategy or cost-estimates.
"I think there is a risk that people will just hear his talking points and think they’re credible, when he doesn’t have any real understanding of the facts,"
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said during
a conference call with reporters before the speech.
Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, said proposals to move veterans outside of VA care risk their health and weaken the safety net system that veterans groups have fought to preserve over decades.
Officials from the American Federation of Government Employees, the union with the largest amount of VA employees, called Trump’s proposals "an outrageous betrayal of our nation’s promise to care for the men and women who have borne the battle" and said the ideas would "throw veterans to the wolves."
But Trump called the current VA setup "part of the rigged system" of politics today, bashing Clinton for downplaying recent scandals in the department.
"Perhaps it is easy for politicians to lose touch with reality when they are being paid millions of dollars to read speeches to Wall Street executives, instead of spending time with real people in real pain," he said.
Trump also pledged to work with Congress to pass tougher accountability legislation for VA workers, an idea that has been stalled on Capitol Hill for most of the last year.
The speech, Trump’s first since the killing of five police officers in Dallas, also included several references to that tragedy and the need to support law enforcement officers.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at