WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Marco Rubio used a real-life example to talk about his commitment to the Department of Veterans Affairs -- his big brother.
The Republican presidential candidate and Florida senator appeared in Iowa Thursday morning with his brother Mario, 65, an Army veteran who lives in Jacksonville, Fla.
In his speech, Marco Rubio called for reforming a system plagued by long delays for those seeking care and allegations of falsified records. As an example, Rubio cited his brother, who served in the Army from 1968 through 1971, and has been waiting on dental work for a service-related injury.
"He's had to file a claim and wait for a hearing, which could take anywhere from 18 months to three years. Meanwhile, he's stuck waiting for the procedures he needs," Rubio said.
"Mario is going through the exact same bureaucratic nightmare every other veteran in his situation has to go through," he added. "And like so many of them, he will tell you how confusing it has been, how even the forms he has to fill out seem almost intentionally complicated."
Rubio said his brother was injured during training and taken to a dentist, but the visit was never officially recorded. To date, the VA has not provided the periodontal work he needs.
Rubio spoke before more than 100 people gathered for a town hall sponsored by the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America.
Democrats in Iowa questioned Rubio's plans for veterans, arguing he would seek to privatize the health care system. In a call with reporters Wednesday, Iowa Democratic Party Vice Chair Danny Homan said: "Rubio isn't offering anything new. Just something dangerous."
Marco Rubio said he will bring more transparency and accountability to the VA, promising to get rid of underperforming workers and provide more public oversight. He would also make it easier for veterans to seek private care.
"When I'm president, benefits are going to follow the veteran; the veteran is not going to have to follow the benefits," he said.
He said there's a lack of accountability at the VA, in part, because "union bosses have rigged the system, making it almost impossible to fire VA employees no matter how bad they are."
Rubio took the opportunity to criticize Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. He said she, if elected, would "keep the status quo" at the VA.
"The truth is we'll never be able to completely overhaul the system until we have a new commander-in-chief," Rubio said.
Associated Press Writer Sergio Bustos contributed to this report from Miami.
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