Candidates to Offer Competing Visions on Vet Care at VFW Convention

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. AP
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. AP

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are scheduled to offer their competing visions on veterans care and Department of Veterans Affairs reform at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was on tap to speak Monday morning.

Trump, who accepted the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention last week, is slated for Tuesday morning, preceded by VA Secretary Bob McDonald.

The convention is expected to draw about 12,000 VFW members at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The events will be live-streamed on the VFW's website.

On his website, and in his address to the Republican National Convention last week, Trump advocated for a plan which gives "veterans the freedom to choose and forces the VA to compete for their dollars."

Clinton's campaign website said that she will "make the Veterans Health Administration [VHA] a seamless partner in health care. She does not believe that privatization will solve the problems that the VHA is facing."

John A. Biedrzycki Jr., national commander of the 1.7 million-member VFW, said his membership also wanted to hear from the candidates on support for GI Bill education benefits.

The current GI Bill allows veterans to transfer the education benefits to their children, but there are proposals in Congress that would cut in half the housing allowance for children of service members attending college using transferred GI Bill benefits.

In a statement, Biedrzycki said, "What we hope to hear from both candidates is how they will fight our enemies while keeping America safe through strong national defense and homeland security programs. We also want to know how they will create, enhance and protect veteran and military health care programs and quality of life initiatives, such as educational benefits, job training and employment programs, as well as hear a renewed commitment to return our fallen from their battlefields."

On privatization, Trump's website said that "Under a Trump Administration, all veterans eligible for VA health care can bring their veteran's ID card to any doctor or care facility that accepts Medicare to get the care they need immediately. Our veterans have earned the freedom to choose better or more convenient care from the doctor and facility of their choice. The power to choose will stop the wait time backlogs and force the VA to improve and compete if the department wants to keep receiving veterans' health care dollars."

Clinton's website said that she would "fundamentally reform veterans health care to ensure access to timely and high quality care and block efforts to privatize the VA -- including improving health care for women at the VHA, ending the veteran suicide epidemic, and continuing efforts to identify and treat invisible, latent, and toxic wounds of war that affect veterans, family members, and caregivers after their service."

In a letter earlier this month, the VFW and 25 other veterans service organizations, including the Disabled Veterans of America, the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, opposed plans to privatize veterans health care. Despite continuing major problems, the VA was improving, the vets groups said, and "over the past two years VA has made significant progress to expand access and begun major reforms that could transform the entire system."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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