David Jolly once again is criticizing Hillary Clinton for her previous remarks about problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He’s also trying to draw in Alan Grayson — his potential opponent in the 2016 U.S. Senate race — into answering Clinton’s comments as well.
The Pinellas County Republican congressman appeared on Boston Herald radio Thursday morning for the second time in recent weeks to again tout his proposed “Freedom Card” medical plan for veterans. It would allow them to receive hospital care and medical services from non-VA health providers. It’s his answer to the wait-time problems at VA hospitals that have been said to contribute to deaths. Arizona Republican John McCain is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.
On Wednesday Clinton announced a detailed plan to overhaul the VA and address the waiting-time issue.
“Long wait times for health care, crippling claims backlogs, and lack of coordination among agencies represent government at its worst,” Time Magazine quoted a Clinton aide talking about her plan. “Secretary Clinton recognizes the gravity of these challenges, and as president will pursue a veteran-centric reform agenda that tackles problems head-on and revitalizes the VA.”
Clinton’s 12-page plan came after Jolly and other Republicans criticized her Oct. 23 comments on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow when she suggested problems at the VA were overstated. “You know, I don’t understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans, and overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment,” Clinton told Maddow.
The former New York senator and U.S. first lady also said in that interview, “If there a waiting period that is just unacceptable, you should be able in a sense get the opportunity to go out and have a private physician take care of you but at the cost to the VA.”
“I think it shows a complete lack of reality for Secretary Clinton,” Jolly said Thursday. “To suggest that this issue is somehow overblown, shows that Hillary Clinton does not truly understand what veterans across the United States are going through when they try to access care at the VA.”
Jolly also said Clinton’s “backpedaling” shows she realized her MSNBC comments were wrong, but that it’s a good thing: “Because this doesn’t have to be a Republicans and Democrats (fight), we should come together as a country and fix it.”
Then Jolly went political, drawing in Orlando-area Democratic U.S. Rep. Grayson, who, like Jolly is running for his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate race next year.
“I will tell you the bigger question,” Jolly said. “There are candidates across the country, Democratic candidates like the one I’m running against in the United State Senate, Alan Grayson, who are on the ballot with Hillary Clinton. Are they going to stand by Hillary Clinton, and the statements that she made, that we’re so outrageous, or are they actually going to stand with our veterans, and insist that they have true health care choice, through legislation, like the Veteran Freedom Card that I’ve introduced?”
Jolly rejected Clinton’s suggestion that Republicans like him want to privatize the VA: “When folks like Hillary Clinton and Alan Grayson and some in the liberal media suggest Republicans want to privatize, they’re paying loose with the truth.”
Grayson was unavailable for comment, but a campaign spokesman pointed to a Wednesday fundraising email from Grayson referencing Jolly’s bill, writing, “Jolly wants to dismantle the VA, but he’s agnostic about how to do it: (1) privatize; or (2) devolve to the states.”
“I called out Jolly on that, because dismantling the VA would be a disaster for veterans,” Grayson wrote. “That’s why thousands of us signed our petition to tell Jolly that we won’t allow him to gut veterans benefits.”
Jolly also commented on the VA Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill being debated in the Senate that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to remove or demote a VA employee because of poor performance or misconduct.
The House passed the bill this summer, but it’s stalled in the Senate. Jolly said it was because conservatives allowed the bill to get through the House, but blamed Bernie Sanders, the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, for its not passing the Senate last year.
“Bernie Sanders as well know, is a registered socialist,” Jolly said. “And so his approach and view of government is protecting labor, protecting the state, protecting the bureaucracy, and so that’s where accountability broke down, was in trying to get a negotiated product with a chairman who is a registered socialist.”
Sanders lost his chairmanship when the Senate turned over in November. The committee is now chaired by Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia.