Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump "doesn't give a damn" about veterans. So said Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego hours before Trump was scheduled to deliver a speech about reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs' healthcare system.
"Trump has said so many things over the years that are just so utterly insulting to men and women in uniform," Gallego, a veteran of the Iraq War, said. "He's compared his sex life and the risk of getting STDs to [the risk of fighting in] the Vietnam War. He's compared going to military boarding school to being in the military ... I can't wait to see what Trump says today, but it's unlikely to be anything substantial."
What Trump will say in his speech this afternoon in Virginia Beach, Virginia, remains to be seen. So far on the campaign trail, he has not spelled out policies for reforming the system he so frequently refers to as "horrible," beyond general calls to privatize services and care.
Gallego, who was joined by colleague and fellow Iraq War veteran Rep. Seth Moulton in a telephone press conference hosted by the Hillary Clinton campaign, blasted privatization as a terrible idea.
"There's no doubt that the VA needs to be fixed, but saying that the privatization of the VA will do that is ridiculous," he said.
Moulton agreed. "While generally, of course, you never really know what Donald Trump is saying, he's talked a lot about privatizing the VA," the Massachusetts Democrat said. "And we know from experience that simply privatizing the VA won't work. We know from the Choice program, which has actually been implemented, [that] wait times have gone up. And what Trump wants to do is just basically dramatically expand the Choice program such that it becomes the VA. We already know from experience that that won't work."
Since 2014, when Congress approved the Veterans Choice program, which attempted to make it easier for vets to get quick access to medical care by allowing them to see private doctors outside the VA system, wait times for medical care have actually increased, a recent NPR investigation found.
What's more, Gallego added, "The vast majority of veterans do not support privatization, because we know it will undermine the unique care we need."
A poll conducted last year by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that 64 percent of veterans opposed privatizing the VA system, and 54 percent strongly opposed it.
"Veterans overwhelmingly feel that health care was a promise made for their service and oppose vouchers that may not cover all costs. Veterans worry that private insurance companies care too much about profit and would make decisions for the care of veterans based on money. They are concerned that if the VA hospitals were privatized, veterans coming home with a war injury and their families would have to deal with private insurance and the possibility of the denial of needed coverage. They also believe that while the VA hospitals need improvements like more doctors, they are where the experts and the people who care about veterans are," the pollsters wrote in a press release.
"We've just become, sadly, accustomed to Donald Trump's outrageous statements," Moulton said, taking the opportunity to add that the things Trump so often says about foreign policy and terrorism are more than merely outrageous. "He is literally putting the lives of men and women serving overseas in danger with what he says on the campaign trail."
Moulton cited Trump's praise for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as the prime example. "Saddam Hussein wasn't 'good' at anything other than being a cruel dictator who gassed his own people and killed hundreds of Americans," Moulton said. "People like [Gallego] and I put our lives on the line for our country when we served in Iraq, and making these comments is just so unbelievably insulting."
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Likening Trump's foreign-policy "cluelessness" to his "ridiculous" plans for the VA, Gallego and Moulton characterized the candidate as a politician who speaks only in "talking points" and is unfit for the presidency.
"On the one hand, we have a truly reckless, thin-skinned, and truly erratic candidate," Moulton said. "And on the other hand, we have [Hillary Clinton], who has a long record of supporting the troops, keeping them safe, and supporting our veterans when they come back home."
Added Gallego: "At this point, all we hear from Donald Trump are talking points, and he could quickly change at any minute. He's not able to fully grasp what has to make the VA better."
Concluded Moulton: "If you just do the basic math and check and a little history, you realize his plans won't serve our veterans at all."