Clinton Defends GI Bill at Veterans Convention, Gets Weak Response

Candidate Hillary Clinton stands on stage with VFW Commander in Chief John Biedrzycki after she speaks at the National Convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Candidate Hillary Clinton stands on stage with VFW Commander in Chief John Biedrzycki after she speaks at the National Convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hillary Clinton doubled down Monday on her commitment to preserve the full education benefits now provided by the GI Bill to post-9/11 veterans and their families to attend college.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, also renewed a vow that as president she would oppose attempts to privatize health care for veterans provided by the Veterans Health Administration under the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Clinton made the remarks at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Charlotte, North Carolina. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, was to address the convention Tuesday.

"I will protect, preserve and defend the post-9/11 GI Bill," Clinton said. "It has opened doors of opportunity to more than one million veterans and family members."

"Unfortunately, there are some Republicans in Congress chipping away at it," Clinton said, referring to a proposal in the Senate that would cut the housing allowance for the family members of veterans. On the House side, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state Republican, has a draft proposal that would not impact GI Bill benefits but would expand veterans' choices on health care and set up "a non-profit entity to manage the care provided to veterans at the VA," a spokeswoman said.

Clinton's speech received what some news organizations described as "tepid" applause. Near the start of her address, someone in the audience shouted, "How about Benghazi?" Another man said "Can't stand her," and walked out as Clinton began talking, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Clinton also took a position on veterans health care that was in stark contrast to that of Trump. "In a Clinton administration, "We're going to have a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs," she said. "Like you, I was outraged by the VA scandals" that left veterans seeking health care "languishing on a waiting list for an appointment," she said.

Reforming the VA "will be one of my highest priorities, Clinton said, "but I'll tell you this -- we are not going to privatize the VA, we are going to reform it and make it work for every veteran in America."

Trump's website said, "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."

Clinton also pledged to improve the transition for troops from military health care to VA coverage, boost programs for female veterans and "end the epidemic of veteran suicide."

She never mentioned Trump's name in remarks delivered as the Democratic National Convention was opening in Philadelphia, but took several swipes clearly aimed at the Republican nominee.

Clinton portrayed herself as the optimistic candidate seeking to improve a nation that was already great, rather than one who would "Make America Great Again" -- Trump's campaign slogan.

"I don't understand people who trash-talk America," she said. The U.S. has "capabilities that no other country comes close to matching" and "we have the world's greatest military -- don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a reference to proposed benefits changes beginning in the fifth paragraph.

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

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