Trump vows to ‘make VA great again’ amid government reforms

Donald Trump concluded the third and final night of the Republican National Convention Thursday with a speech that unpacked several of the presidential candidate’s views on how federal executives and the Department of Veterans Affairs should be managed.

Trump signaled that he would allow all eligible veterans to seek health care at private, non-VA medical facilities — a platform that aligns him with a national commission’s recent proposal for “bold transformation” at the VA. His position on veteran care has also drawn condemnation by the largest federal employees’ union.

The plan also sets Trump apart from Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, whom he criticized as doing too little, too late about long wait times at VA hospitals.

“We will take care of our great veterans like they have never been taken care of before. My opponent dismissed the VA scandal as being not widespread — one more sign of how out of touch she really is,” Trump said during his acceptance of the party nomination in Cleveland.

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On his campaign website, Trump calls for all veterans eligible for VA health care to be able to seek treatment with any doctor or medical facility that accepts Medicare.

“Our veterans have earned the freedom to choose better or more convenient care from the doctor and facility of their choice,” the website says.

The plan, as described, would expand the already-existing Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, or “Choice Act,” which permits veterans to treatment from private medical providers if the VA is unable to schedule an appointment within 30 days of a patient’s request.

The Trump campaign has also proposed that the federal government “make the VA great again” by allowing the agency to more easily fire members of its senior executive service for misconduct.

The Choice Act expedites the timeline for fired or demoted SES members to appeal their dismissal before an administrative judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, but the Justice Department recently blocked that provision, claiming it was unconstitutional.

Since the Choice Act was enacted in 2014, the MSPB has reviewed five cases and overturned punishment for three VA senior executives.

But Trump’s plan for the VA has drawn criticism from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 230,000 VA employees.

“Donald Trump wants to throw veterans to the wolves,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. “Private health care for veterans would be an expensive disaster, and no one should be fooled into believing otherwise.”

Cox told Federal Drive with Tom Temin on July 9 that AFGE opposes the Commission on Care’s recommendation to expanded community medical treatment options for veterans and to establish a new government board to oversee the veterans health care system, which sees more than 6 million patients a year.

“Buying care in the community for veterans has been in place for a long time,” Nancy Schlichting, the commission’s chair, told the Federal Drive. “Approximately over 20 percent of care is purchased in the community today, but it’s not as well organized.  And what we think should happen, over time, is to organize these integrated networks across all communities so the care is delivered in a more effective way.”

Trump also promised that “we will fix TSA at the airports” if elected president, but he did not elaborate further. The Trump campaign did not immediately return comment seeking details of the candidate’s TSA reform proposal.

AFGE, however, blasted the RNC for the party platform it finalized Monday, which calls for privatizing the TSA.

“The platform’s plan to privatize TSA would also be a dangerous and expensive disaster, throwing away a decade and a half of reliable airport security and returning us to the pre-9/11 model that failed to such devastating effect,” Cox said. “Instead of dismantling the TSA, the platform should demand that the agency receive the funding and staff it needs to do its jobs safely and efficiently, which a Republican-led Congress has failed to do for years.”

Trump also called for a governmentwide investigation of fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer funds — a familiar refrain from Republican lawmakers.

“We are going to ask every department head in government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days. The politicians have talked about it, I’m going to do it,” Trump said.

Clinton doubles down on existing VA system

Clinton will have her chance to rebut Trump’s criticisms at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which starts Monday, July 25.

On the Clinton campaign website, the candidate said the Veterans Health Administration should pivot to primarily be an “integrated health care system” instead of a care provider.

“Veterans must have access to a system that puts their needs first. But in order to build such a system, prepared for the unique and growing needs of the twenty-first century, we cannot simply throw more money at the problem or tell veterans to go get private care, as the VA’s implementation of the Veterans’ Choice Act has shown,” the Clinton website said.

Clinton has received endorsements from many federal employee unions, including AFGE.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, will participate in the DNC as a delegate representing Maryland.

“Participating in this convention will allow me to give federal employees a voice in shaping policies that will affect them for years to come. I will make sure the next president and Congress understand and appreciate the enormous contributions federal employees make to our great nation every day,” Reardon said in a statement.

The Clinton campaign also supports health record interoperability between the VA and Department of Department, a process that has received mixed reviews from members of Congress.

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