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Trump releases plan aimed at improving veterans’ care

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs for supporters during a rally, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs for supporters during a rally, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld)

JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released a plan on Saturday aimed at overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs and improving veterans’ health care and employment services.

Under Trump’s plan, eligible veterans would be able to bring their veterans’ identification cards to any private doctor or facility that accepts Medicare and be able to receive immediate treatment. The change, he said, would help improve wait times and services by adding competition.

“The plan will ensure our veterans get the care they need whenever and wherever they need it,” said Trump, who previewed the plan during a rally that drew thousands in front of the battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia, That’s the same city where 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney chose to announce Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential pick.

The plan comes as Trump, who has faced criticism for failing to provide policy specifics, is adjusting to the changing dynamics of a race in which several of his challengers are garnering new attention from voters and donors.

The VA has become a frequent target of both Republicans and Democrats, having been plagued by scandal in recent years over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records by VA employees to cover up delays.

Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the department last year, but the VA continues to draw scrutiny for management and budget troubles.

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Trump’s plan would increase funding for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention as well as provide additional job training and placement. Trump also focused on providing better support for female veterans, including improved health services.

“Politicians in Washington have tried to fix the VA by holding hearings and blindly throwing money at the problem. None of it has worked,” according to the plan. “It’s time we stop trusting Washington politicians to fix the problems and empower our veterans to vote with their feet.”

Trump’s plan, however, does not include any details about how much it would cost to implement or how he would pay for it. He said in Virginia that the changes he’d propose would cost less than the system now in place because he would stamp out waste. A campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for additional details.

Trump has made a point of criticizing the way veterans in the country are treated ever since he faced criticism early in his campaign for questioning Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero after being a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

Pete Hegseth, who heads the group Concerned Veterans for America, which criticized Trump’s comments then, said in a statement that the plan was disappointing in its lack of detail.

“While Donald Trump rightly proposes more health care choices for veterans and long-overdue accountability for bad VA employees, his ‘plan’ is painfully thin on specifics about how he would implement those principles,” he said, adding that the proposals offered “are very similar to the same old song and dance of dumping more money into the VA to build more clinics and expand VA mandates — something that has been tried repeatedly and failed.”

He noted that the Veterans Choice program, a centerpiece of the VA overhaul approved last year, already provides veterans access to federally paid medical care from local, non-VA doctors.

Trump has also released policy papers on immigration, the Second Amendment and tax reform.

Veterans groups have criticized another Republican presidential contender, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, for proposing to eliminate the Department of Veterans Affairs entirely.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has said she intends to lay out plans in November for VA improvements.


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