The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday offered a plan for reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs that would seem to give veterans the option of getting medical care outside the VA -- including at private hospitals -- with the government paying the bills.
"Every veteran will get timely access to top quality medical care – every veteran," Trump said during a campaign event in Virginia Beach.
"Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center," he said. "We must extend this right to all veterans, not just those who can't get an appointment within 30 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital, which is, unfortunately, the current and wrong policy."
Reiterating that promise later in his remarks, Trump said he will "make sure that every veteran in America has the choice to seek care at the veterans administration or private medical care paid for by our government."
Trump's comments were enthusiastically received by his supporters at Virginia Beach, where he was introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Miller helped draft the 10-point reform plan the Trump is pushing.
Miller, who is retiring from Congress this year, took the opportunity to endorse Trump and also slam presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as someone "painfully out of touch with the veterans' community" for believing the wait-time scandal that broke two years ago was overly exaggerated.
"America needs a commander-in-chief who understands veterans of today, committed to solving the problems. You won't get that from a career bureaucrat like Hillary Clinton," the congressman said.
Trump's apparent commitment to opening up more of private sector healthcare to veterans is one of the ideas advocated by the Commission on Care, which released its report on VA health last week. That recommendation is widely backed by Miller and other conservative lawmakers.
VA officials led by Secretary Bob McDonald and many Democratic lawmakers are leery of allowing veterans to go into the community for their care. What they may gain in convenience could have consequences to their long-term treatment as well as the viability of a veteran-specific health care system.
McDonald at numerous venues has said what is lost by broad and unrestricted use of private health care is the continuity of care that VA now provides, with every visit, diagnosis and treatment recorded and coordinated. It also risks losing the VA the ability to conduct the kinds of medical research that might be valuable to veterans but not be viewed as important or profitable enough to be pursued by outside researchers.
Most of the 10 proposals Trump pitched on Monday deal with lowering the boom on VA officials.
He promised to appoint a VA secretary whose job would be "to clean up" the department; use every authority to remove and discipline managers who fail veterans or breach the public trust; ask Congress for legislation to give a new secretary authority to remove any employee who risks the health, safety or well-being of any veteran; and appoint a commission to investigate wrongdoing at the VA and use the findings as the basis for legislative reform.
He also pledged to protect "honest, dedicated" agency employees from retribution and see they are in line for promotion as a reward for good work; set up a "private White House hotline" for complaints, which he will personally address if the department leadership cannot; prevent bad employees and managers from receiving bonuses, reform the visa program for foreign workers and give veterans top priority in employment; and increase the number of mental health care facilities and care workers for veterans.