Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton on Tuesday unveiled what will be her priorities on veterans and military personnel issues if elected, focusing on reforms to existing programs rather than the extensive overhauls and eliminations favored by her Republican rivals.
The move comes just hours before Veterans Day and just weeks after Clinton took heavy criticism from Republican candidates who portrayed her as downplaying problems in the Veterans Affairs Department.
In her policy platform, Clinton laments the "systemic failures" within VA and said recent scandals in the department "represent government at its worst."
But the former secretary of state's plan refutes Republican proposals to outsource much of VA's operations, labeling such a move as "privatization" of the department that could leave veterans "vulnerable to a health care market poorly suited to their needs."
Instead, Clinton proposes revamping the Veterans Health Administration, offering better coordination with military health care, private physicians and other existing resources while still leaving VA in the lead role.
"VA must maintain the ultimate responsibility of coordinating and ensuring comprehensive and quality health care for every veteran and the specialized services that they deserve — critical functions that would disappear if the VA were privatized," the plan states.
Clinton also vows to place stronger oversight on VA operations, to include regular meetings in the Oval Office with the department secretary, and promises a fully interoperable health records system between VA and the Defense Department.
That promise was also made by President Obama, but has proven elusive over the past seven years.
On the issue of veterans suicide, Clinton promises increased funding for VA mental health staffing and training, expansion of department counseling programs and promotion of "better prescriber and treatment practices" that offer more alternatives than medication.
Clinton says she also will create a standing President's Council on Veterans to coordinate services across government agencies, convene a White House summit inviting key service organizations and state leaders, and continue work with Obama's Joining Forces initiative.
She pledged to close the 90/10 loophole that excludes GI Bill benefits from schools' calculations of federal funds, a complaint from veterans groups who say for-profit colleges are victimizing veterans who use the popular education benefit.
On military personnel policies, Clinton — who would be the first female president if elected — says she will support "welcoming women to compete for all military positions provided they meet the requisite standards," continuing current defense trends toward gender-neutral job requirements.
She also promises a review on service by transgender individuals, "anticipating that transgender people will soon be allowed to serve openly."
Her plan endorses reform of the military health system, moving on changes to Tricare recommended by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission and expanding access to "nontraditional treatments" like online medical services.
She pledges to modernize the military commissary system and expand child care offerings on installations.
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.