On Sunday morning, Bernie Sanders addressed the Veterans’ Affairs scandals during an interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” During the six-minute segment, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate made it clear that he believes taking care of military veterans is a high priority. He outlined plans to address long wait times and hinted at criminal prosecution for those who falsified documents and “gamed” the system.
The Veterans Affairs Administration has been under fire for long wait times and falsified documents claiming veterans received care when they did not. A CNN report in September claims that up to 307,000 veterans may have died while waiting for their applications for care to be processed. The VA’s inspector general discovered that in one case, one veteran’s application had been in “pending” status from 1998 until 2012.
Schieffer hit Bernie Sanders hard with questions regarding the long wait times and lack of care many veterans have endured with the VA. Bernie Sanders is the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and interview hit on some important points for those who rely on the service to get their medical care.
Sanders addressed the problem as a multi-faceted issue.
“What’s very clear to everybody right now is that in many parts of the country the VA simply do not have the doctors and the staff to make sure the veterans got timely care. The system was then gamed, which is absolutely reprehensible, which must be dealt with through criminal prosecution … We must be sure that never happens again.”
Bernie Sanders further stated that when veterans do get in and get medical care throughout the VA, the quality of the care they receive is quite good, and sometimes even cutting edge.
“The problem we have to address is access to the system and waiting lines.”
Bernie Sanders also addressed short term needs for veterans needing medical care.
“We are going to introduce legislation either tomorrow or Tuesday which address, I think, the short term needs to make sure that any veteran who was on a long waiting line will be able to get the care that he or she needs either at a private facility or community health center, or the Department of Defense.”
Schieffer then asked Bernie Sanders who he believed was responsible for the mess.
“Well, I think everybody can bear some of the responsibility. We have had a number of hearings. We have met with all the veterans’ organizations. I think the point, right now, Bob, is to make sure that we address the very real problems that are facing six-and-a-half million veterans who utilize the VA system.”
Bernie Sanders also stated that as president he would prefer to staff the VA with people who understand both health care and how to best use available resources for the most efficiency and effectiveness.
Bernie Sanders credited former Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki with trying to transform a badly outdated system for filing claims and paperwork.
“When Shinseki came in after the Bush administration, they were processing a million claims a year in paper. They didn’t have the electronic system. That takes a lot of work.”
Shinseki was subsequently embroiled in a scandal involving timely care and false records which resulted in his resignation in 2014. Although the issue likely stemmed from lower level administrators falsifying records, Shinseki bore the brunt of criticism for the scandal.
Bernie Sanders was critical of the U.S. government for failing to take care of its veterans.
“When you send young men and women to war, when they come home we have a moral responsibility to make sure that all of them get the health care … they deserve.”
Toward the end of the segment, Bernie Sanders emphasized the need to streamline the Veterans Affairs Administration.
“The issue right now is to make sure that we have the management capabilities, that we get rid of as quickly as we can people who are incompetent and that we keep the promises to our veterans.”
Bernie Sanders’ commitment to veterans stems back to his earliest days in Congress. Since 1990, Bernie has sponsored or co-sponsored nearly 70 bills supporting military veterans, more than any other member of congress in the past 30 years.
[Photo by Screen Grab/Face the Nation/YouTube]