VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) – Touting himself as the “law and order candidate,” Republican Donald Trump pledged Monday to crack down on Department of Veterans Affairs employees who fail to serve veterans, his latest in a series of prepared remarks aimed at articulating his policy agenda for his general election campaign.
Trump’s 10-point plan aims to expand programs that allow veterans to seek government-funded private medical care.
“We made a promise to these heroes. You defend America, and America will defend you,” Trump said, adding he will fire or discipline VA employees who “fail our veterans” or breach the public trust.
“Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center,” Trump said.
He described himself as the “candidate of compassion”
Trump has been working to repair his relationship with veterans since he suggested early in his campaign that Arizona Sen. John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War. Trump also raised eyebrows earlier this year when he failed to immediately disclose which veterans’ charities he’d given money to following a fundraiser he’d held in place of a GOP debate.
Trump also addressed the killing of five police officers in Dallas during a protest against a pair of recent police shootings.
“America’s police and law enforcement personnel are what separates civilization from total chaos – and the destruction of our country as we know it,” he said. “It is time for the hostility against our police, and against all members of law enforcement, to end – and to end right now.”
He declared himself the “candidate of compassion,” saying he would support police while also fighting crime in the nation’s inner cities.
The event began with remarks from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is one of a handful of potential vice presidential contenders Trump is currently vetting. Trump has been bringing his finalists along with him on the campaign trail in a parade that brings to mind reality show tryouts.
Helping veterans has long been a staple of Trump’s campaign. He is also expected to hammer the Obama administration for the 2014 Veterans Affairs scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records by VA employees to cover up the delays.
The presumptive GOP nominee will be speaking in Virginia Beach, Virginia, not far from the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, where he first unveiled his plan to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs last October. Then he promised to modernize the system, minimize wait times for patients and improve care.
“The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs is absolutely unacceptable,” read the plan that Trump unveiled last fall. “The guiding principle of the Trump plan is ensuring veterans have convenient access to the best quality care.”
Under the plan he unveiled then, eligible veterans would be able to bring their veterans’ identification cards to any private doctor or facility that accepts Medicare and be able to receive immediate treatment. The change, he argued, would help improve wait times and services by adding competition.
The proposal sounded similar to the Veterans Choice program, a centerpiece of the 2014 VA overhaul, which provides veterans access to federally-paid medical care from local, non-VA doctors – but only if they’ve waited at least 30 days for a VA appointment or live at least 40 miles away from a VA medical center.
A congressional commission report released last week recommended replacing the program with a new, nationwide community care network that would be open to all veterans, regardless of how long they have waited for care or where they live.
Trump vowed to implement policies that allow veterans to use any doctor they choose, including those outside VA centers.
“Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical centers,” excerpts of his speech said.
His 10 steps will include overhauling current visa programs “to ensure American Veterans are in the front, not back, of the line.” He will also pledge to discipline federal workers who abuse the system and appoint a commission to investigate the VA and present its findings to Congress. It is unclear how that commission would be different from the one that unveiled its findings last week.
In the plan announced last fall, Trump had broken with some Republicans who’d called for privatizing the VA in the wake of the 2014 scandal.
“Some candidates want to get rid of it, but our veterans need the VA to be there for them and their families,” Trump said then.