Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Saturday unveiled his plan to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs. The front-runner’s proposals include modernizing the VA and eliminating waste, while increasing funding for job training and mental health services, but the heart of the plan is a provision that would allow veterans to choose a private healthcare provider.
Trump told a crowd in Norfolk, Virginia, that by putting VA healthcare centers in competition with private healthcare options, he would cut down on wait times, reduce bureaucracy and increase the quality of care for veterans. Under his plan, all veterans would be able to use their veteran’s ID card to access any health care center accepting Medicare.
"They have earned the freedom to choose," Trump said, according to CNN. "We're going to transform the VA to meet the needs of the 21st century. ... We're going to make the VA great again."
The campaign rally in Norfolk, a naval hub, featured the USS Wisconsin warship as a backdrop. The New York businessman’s VA plan also focuses on improving life for veterans once they return from combat. He wants to increase funding for post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention services as part of a goal to “support the whole veteran.”
The plan also includes proposals to increase funding for job training and placement services for veterans, including an incentive program for companies that hire veterans and loans for veterans who want to start their own businesses. In terms of improving VA healthcare itself, Trump said he wants to expand investments in new technology for healthcare centers and VA clinics in underserved areas, and fill more VA jobs with veterans who understand what patients are going through.
Trump did not say during the rally how much his plan would cost the federal government or how he would pay for the reforms, and his website did not detail cost information either. The Department of Veterans Affairs has come under fire in recent years as reports have detailed the VA’s lack of funding and the long wait times veterans can face when seeking care.
“The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is absolutely unacceptable. Over 300,000 veterans died waiting for care,” Trump’s plan on his website reads. “Corruption and incompetence were excused. Politicians in Washington have done too little too slowly to fix it. This situation can never happen again, and when Donald J. Trump is president, it will be fixed -- fast.”
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in August released a plan to overhaul the VA, and his plan has a number of similar ideas to Trump’s, including increasing veterans’ ability to choose healthcare providers, enhancing services for female veterans and modernizing VA clinics.
In the past week, Trump’s lead of the Republican field faltered as fellow candidate Ben Carson pulled ahead in polls in Iowa and then in a national CBS/New York Times poll released Tuesday. But Trump was back on top in an IBD/TIPP poll out Friday, where he led Carson 28 percent to 23 percent. The celebrity businessman is now at 27 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics national average, compared with Carson at about 22 percent.