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“I Like People That Weren’t Captured, OK?”: Trump Takes The Wrong Message To The Wrong Crowd In The Wrong Way

For those unfamiliar with the “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle rally, the point of the annual gathering is to raise awareness of prisoners of war and American servicemen and women missing in action. If you tried to find the most out-of-place individual imaginable for this rally, you could do worse than pointing to a New York billionaire who avoided military service and who’s publicly mocked POWs, saying last year, “I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

And yet, take a wild guess which high-profile speaker graced Rolling Thunder with his presence this holiday weekend?

Republican Donald Trump told a motorcycle rally on Sunday that people in the U.S. illegally often are cared for better than the nation’s military veterans, without backing up his allegation.

“Thousands of people are dying waiting in line to see a doctor. That is not going to happen anymore,” Trump told veterans gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the annual Rolling Thunder event, which brings thousands of motorcyclists to Washington each Memorial Day weekend.

The assertion that veterans often receive worse care than undocumented immigrants is demonstrably ridiculous, though that’s never stopped Trump before.

The presumptive Republican nominee was also apparently disappointed with the crowd size – organizers estimated about 5,000 people were in attendance – arguing that there were 600,000 people who wanted to hear his speech but weren’t allowed in.

Trump complained, “I thought this would be like Dr. Martin Luther King, where the people would be lined up from here all the way to the Washington monument, right? Unfortunately, they don’t allow ‘em to come in,” without explaining who “they” are or where these 600,000 people were hiding.

Of course, the more Trump avoids King references when talking about his speeches, the better.

Regardless, think about the chutzpah it took for the Republican candidate to claim credibility of the subject of veterans in the first place.

Even if Trumps’ mockery of POWs wasn’t enough to keep him away, and even if Trump’s plan to privatize veterans’ care wasn’t enough to keep him away, and even if Trump’s avoiding military service during the Vietnam war wasn’t enough to keep him away, there’s also the fact that Trump and his campaign got caught lying about his financial support for veterans’ charities.

This happened, by the way, literally last week – just days ahead of his remarks to an audience committed to raising awareness about a group of veterans.

The GOP candidate might have been disappointed the crowd wasn’t larger, but Trump’s lucky those who were in attendance didn’t just laugh in his face.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 31, 2016

May 31, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, POW/MIA, Veterans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Donation That Did Not Exist”: Caught Fibbing, Trump Scrambles To Address Veterans Controversy

In a normal year, in a normal party, with a normal candidate, it would be the kind of controversy that effectively kills a presidential candidate’s chances of success. In January, Donald Trump skipped a Republican debate in order to host a fundraiser for veterans. He boasted at the time that he’d raised $6 million for vets – which led to a related boast that Trump contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.

The Washington Post reported this week that Trump’s claims simply weren’t true. He did not, for example, raise $6 million. And what about the $1 million check the Republican bragged about? His campaign manager insisted this week that Trump did make the contribution.

Except, that wasn’t true, either. The Post reported last night:

Almost four months after promising $1 million of his own money to veterans’ causes, Donald Trump moved to fulfill that pledge Monday evening – promising the entire sum to a single charity as he came under intense media scrutiny.

The check is apparently going to a group called the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, whose chairman received a call from Trump on Monday night, the day the campaign controversy broke.

Let’s put aside, for now, why the Trump campaign said he’d made a donation that did not exist. Let’s instead ask why it took nearly four months for the candidate to do what he claimed to have already done.

“You have a lot of vetting to do,” Trump told the Washington Post yesterday.

That might be a decent response were it not for the fact that the New York Republican doesn’t appear at all interested in vetting veterans’ groups – as the story of the sketchy “Veterans for a Strong America” helps prove.

CNN, meanwhile, reported last night that when it comes to the candidate’s support for veterans’ groups, there have been “discrepancies between the amount of money Trump touts, and the amount actually donated.”

You can find one example right on Trump’s own website, where Trump boasts of saving an annual veterans parade in 1995 with his participation, and a cash donation, “Mr. Trump agreed to lead as grand marshal,” and “made a $1 million matching donation to finance the Nation’s Day Parade.”

Trump did save the event, according to the parade’s organizer, but he didn’t give $1 million to it.

He actually donated “somewhere between $325,000 and $375,000” – about a third of what he claimed – and Trump was not the parade’s grand marshal, a honor reserved for actual veterans.

CNN’s report has not been independently verified by NBC News, but if accurate, the revelations will only make the controversy more severe.

I can appreciate why some observers get tired of the “imagine if a Democrat did this” framing, but in this case, it’s worth taking a moment to consider. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign had been caught making blatantly false claims about donations to veterans’ charities, is there any doubt that it would be one of the biggest stories of the election season? How much punditry would we hear about this being proof about Clinton’s dishonesty and willingness to say anything to get elected?

Postscript: Asked about the January fundraiser, and his claim that he’d raised $6 million for veterans, Trump told the Washington Post yesterday, “I didn’t say six.” Reminded that he did, in reality, use the specific $6 million figure – out loud, in public, on video – Trump changed the subject.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 26, 2016

May 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Veterans | , , , | 1 Comment

“A Public-Relations Effort For Himself”: Donald Trump’s ‘Shady’ Support For Veterans

When Democrats make the case that Donald Trump has a controversial background when it comes to veterans’ issues, it’s not just wishful thinking. The presumptive Republican nominee, for example, has drawn criticism for supporting a privatization plan for veterans’ care. His associations with the sketchy Veterans for a Strong America exacerbated the problem.

And it certainly didn’t help matters when Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, said he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

Making matters much worse are new questions about Trump and veterans-related fundraising.

In January, the New York Republican skipped a debate in Iowa to instead hold a fundraiser for veterans. Trump repeatedly boasted at the time that, thanks to his bold leadership, he’s raised $6 million for vets. Trump added that he’d contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.

Whatever happened to all of that money? The Washington Post took a closer look.

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the fundraiser actually netted about $4.5 million, or 75 percent of the total that Trump announced.

Lewandowski blamed the shortfall on Trump’s own wealthy acquaintances. He said some of them had promised big donations that Trump was counting on when he said he had raised $6 million. But Lewandowski said those donors backed out and gave nothing. […]

Lewandowski also said he did not know whether a $1 million pledge from Trump himself was counted as part of the $4.5 million total. He said Trump has given that amount, but he declined to identify any recipients.

The number of questions, which the campaign does not want to answer, represents a real problem. Exactly how much did Trump raise for veterans? His campaign doesn’t know. How much of it has been allocated? His campaign doesn’t know that, either. Who were the beneficiaries of Trump’s $1 million contribution? The campaign doesn’t want to talk about it.

I’m trying to imagine how the political world would react if Hillary Clinton and her team tried this.

The Post’s report added:

In recent weeks, Trump and his campaign repeatedly declined to give new details about how much they have given away. “Why should I give you records?” Trump said in an interview with The Post this month. “I don’t have to give you records.”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Trump’s refusal to divulge how much of the money he had distributed raised questions about whether the candidate intended the fundraiser primarily as a public-relations effort for himself.

“That’s just shady. Right? No matter how you cut it, that’s just shady,” Rieckhoff said. “If he was going to make it right, a couple of weeks before Memorial Day would be a good time to do it. It behooves him, not just politically but ethically, to come forward and account for this money.”

Just so we’re clear, there’s ample evidence that Trump did raise millions for veterans and some organizations benefited from the donations.

There is, however, additional evidence that Trump’s specific claims about the amount of money raised weren’t true, and for whatever reason, the Republican candidate and his team have been reluctant to account for the money in detail. Indeed, when asked for details about how Trump’s $1 million was allocated, the GOP candidate’s campaign manager responded, “He’s not going to share that information.”

Postscript: To put this in a slightly larger context, in April, the Washington Post reported on Trump’s frequent boasts that he’s given “more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.” The newspaper found, however, “Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.”

Update: Several readers reminded me that Trump’s troubles with veterans also extend to his condemnation of John McCain and servicemembers who “get captured.” It’s an important point.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2016

May 25, 2016 Posted by | Charitable Donations, Donald Trump, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Caught Red Handed”: The Latest On Efforts To Privatize The VA

A few weeks ago, the Washington Monthly published a story by investigative reporter Alicia Mundy that challenged the whole narrative about 2014 VA “scandal,” the one in which dozens of veterans were said to have died as a result of lengthy wait times to see VA doctors. In fact, Mundy shows, the department’s inspector general, after an exhaustive review of patient records, could not say with any confidence that even one veteran had suffered that fate. There were certainly problems at some VA facilities; the wait list numbers were definitely being gamed by VA personnel who, like Charlie Chaplin’s factory worker, struggled to keep up with unmeetable performance metrics. The “death wait” allegations, however, turn out to be bogus–cooked up by a Koch brothers-funded group, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), working with Hill Republicans, in order to panic Washington lawmakers into passing legislation in 2014 to outsource VA care to private sector providers.

In reaction to our story, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller (R-Tea Party) wrote an intemperate letter attacking the story’s key findings as “completely false,” allegations we rather easily countered. Then Miller appeared before the commission his legislation mandated and made a damned fool of himself. Then a faction of the conservatives on the commission were outed for writing up a secret draft of the commission’s recommendations–in which they call for full privatization of the VA—in possible violation of the Sunshine and Federal Advisory Committee Acts.

The latest news on this is that leaders of eight prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, sent a letter to the commission chair slamming the secret draft and expressing their united opposition to privatizing the VA. This is an important development. As Mundy explains in her piece, a big reason the privatization push has gotten as far as it has is that the traditional veterans groups allowed themselves to be sidelined politically by CVA. Now, finally, those groups are fighting back. And while they don’t have seats on the commission, they do have 5 million members.

So far, this story has gotten virtually no mainstream press coverage–in part, no doubt, because it contradicts the “scandal at the VA” narrative that the press itself originally reported. But I don’t think this hesitancy will last long–the story’s way too juicy. Independent research mandated by that 2014 legislation not only undermines claims about dozens of veterans dying because of wait times, but also shows that the VA provides the same or better quality care than does the private sector. Yet here you have commission members, many of whom represent corporate medical centers that stand to gain billions of dollars in revenue from outsourcing VA care, caught red handed crafting secret recommendations to outsource VA care at the expense of quality care for veterans.

If I had to bet on who’s going to win this policy war, I wouldn’t, at this point, put my money on the outsourcers.

 

By: Paul Glastris, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Republicans, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Veterans Scandal On Bernie Sanders’ Watch”: An Obscured View Of The Situation On The Ground

Bernie Sanders’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was characterized by glaring neglect of his oversight responsibilities, allowing the 2014 VA scandal to unfold under his watch, veterans’ rights advocates argue.

Sanders has touted his work on veterans’ issues, most recently citing his involvement in “the most comprehensive VA health care bill in this country,” in a debate Thursday.

Left unsaid however, is that he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, responsible for overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the scandal erupted.

Dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care at Phoenix Veterans Health Administration facilities, a scandal CNN broke in the spring of 2014. The imbroglio spread with reports of secret waiting lists at other VA hospitals, possibly leading to dozens more preventable deaths.

He held one-sixth of the hearings on oversight that his House of Representatives counterpart held. Republicans griped that they had made multiple requests for more oversight hearings, but received no response. A news host even challenged Sanders as the scandal erupted, saying he sounded more like a lawyer for the VA than the man responsible for overseeing it.

“We feel that he did not live up to his responsibilities as SVAC chairman to provide oversight into this. He keeps hiding behind the mantle [of the title]. And yes, he did pass the $15 billion piece of legislation, but that’s… akin to closing the barn door after the chickens have escaped,” said Matthew Miller, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

By the time the scandal broke, Sanders had been chairman for more than a year. While the House VA committee held 42 hearings on VA oversight, the Senate VA committee chaired by Sanders held only about seven hearings on the matter.

“The House needed a partner in the Senate to help flesh out the problems at the VA, and unfortunately Bernie Sanders was not that partner. Jeff Miller and his committee were the ones who pursued this and ultimately uncovered [the VA scandal]… only when the VA scandal broke was when [Sanders] ultimately decided to do oversight hearings,” said Dan Caldwell, the vice president for political and legislative action of Concerned Veterans for America.

Republicans on the committee signed a letter shortly after the scandal broke, demanding to hold multiple oversight hearings on the VA, and complained that they had requested “multiple oversight hearings since the beginning of the 113th Congress with none of the requested hearings taking place and no response.”

Even as the scandal was breaking, Sanders was challenged for his defense of the VA.

“You sound like a lawyer defending the hospital, as opposed to a senator trying to make sure the right thing is done,” CNN host Chris Cuomo lectured Sanders as the scandal unraveled.

It was his progressive worldview that blinded him to the problems of the VA, some veterans advocates argued, and it prevented him from seeing the problem as it emerged.

Sanders, some veterans’ rights workers say, wanted to believe that the VA was a model for government-run health care.

“For years, many people within the progressive movement and the left touted the VA as an example of what government-run health care could look like for Americans,” added Dan Caldwell. “Based on Bernie Sanders’s ideology, he wanted the government-run system at the VA to work, because it reinforced his view of what government health care should look like for all Americans, not just veterans.”

Those advocates don’t think his rosy view of what was happening at the VA lined up with reality.

“His worldview got in the way of the facts on the ground. He’s concerned about veterans, but had an almost blind faith in the VA system to where it obscured his view of the situation on the ground as the scandal was unfolding,” said a congressional source close to the legislative negotiations on VA reform.

The problem, the source said, was that Sanders “believed in government, and he believed in it to a fault.”

Ultimately, an emergency piece of legislation was passed that infused money into the VA and created some accountability mechanisms. The Choice Act, as it was called, also allowed vets to find private-care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days, a major concession that Sanders was forced to make.

“He got backed into a corner and had no choice but to support the bill. The consensus on the committee was strong—to have some more accountability and give veterans some private choices,” Caldwell said. “Bernie just got outgunned… he had no choice. Now he’s turning it around and using it as an example of finding consensus… The bill that passed would have largely passed even if he had walked away.”

The congressional source close to the negotiations said Sanders “helped negotiate this bill and got some of his elements in,” including additional funding for the VA, but only after a late start, having defended the VA during the early days of the scandal.

Sanders cites awards from the American Legion and the VFW as evidence of accomplishments during his time as chairman.

But Miller batted this away: “That’s not uncommon for the chairman and ranking member of committees to get awards from veterans associations. Or, quite frankly, if they’re chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to get it from a tax-writing firm. Or if they’re chairman of House Armed Services, to get something from Boeing.”

“When vets needed Bernie Sanders to aggressively oversee the VA and hold them accountable, he was AWOL,” Caldwell added.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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