After Downplaying VA Scandal, Clinton Unveils Plans To Support Veterans

Nov 10, 2015
Originally published on November 11, 2015 2:01 pm
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Presidential candidates usually go into their campaign events with a goal. In New Hampshire today, Hillary Clinton's goal was to unveil her plan for veterans and quiet the criticism that she isn't committed to their cause, but in doing so she ended up inviting criticism about something else. NPR's Tamara Keith was there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Clinton's plan to support veterans, the troops and their families fills 12 pages and generally mirrors and expands upon the Obama administration's efforts to improve health care and services for vets. She spoke at the VFW Hall in Derry, N.H.

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HILLARY CLINTON: If we can maintain the most advanced military in the history of the world and fight wars across vast oceans and continents, we can figure out how to ensure that no veterans ever have to wait in line for weeks or months to get care.

KEITH: In some ways this is a do-over for Clinton. Last month in an MSNBC interview with Rachel Maddow, Clinton downplayed the VA scandal.

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CLINTON: Overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment. Now...

RACHEL MADDOW: Much more so than people in the regular system.

CLINTON: That's exactly right. Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda.

MADDOW: But in part because there has been real scandal.

CLINTON: There has been, and - but it's not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.

KEITH: Veterans groups objected. The issue of secret waiting lists and terribly long wait times for care at VA medical facilities was widespread and still isn't fully fixed. The Koch brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America even went up with a 30-second Web ad replaying the remarks.

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MADDOW: But in part because there has been real scandal.

CLINTON: There has been, and - but it's not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.

KEITH: Text on the screen says, our veterans deserve better. Clinton's campaign said Republicans were politicizing the needs of veterans. The group that put out that ad advocates for privatizing the VA, which is something Clinton opposes, a point she made in New Hampshire earlier today.

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CLINTON: Privatization is a betrayal - plain and simple - and I'm not going to let it happen.

KEITH: That was really the news she came here to make - to take a strong stand against fully privatizing the VA. But during the question-and-answer session, Clinton was taken off message. It's something that can and often does happen at town hall-style campaign events. A disabled Vietnam veteran named Fred Walsh asked her about Social Security. Walsh, who told NPR he's volunteering on the Clinton campaign, then went on a sidewinder about Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

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FRED WALSH: And I've got to tell you one thing. I worked for Hewlett-Packard when Carly Fiorina was CEO.

KEITH: He told Clinton he was among tens of thousands of people laid off after the merger between HP and Compaq. And then Walsh said something that's causing a political backlash.

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WALSH: And she says she's a great CEO. Every time I see her on TV, I want to reach through and strangle her.

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: You know, I know that doesn't sound very nice, but...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I wouldn't mess with you. (Laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Before Clinton had left the event, this exchange had blown up on Twitter. The Republican Party put out a statement saying, quote, "Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have lost all credibility claiming to be a party that stands up for women." "Jokes about violence against women should be condemned every time," the statement added. Tamara Keith, NPR News, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.