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Sanders the Phony VA Reformer

Comment

The New Hampshire primary has put the spotlight on Bernie Sanders. But not all his votes were honestly won. Sanders falsely claims he's been leading the fight to save vets from the corruption and deadly medical care delays at the VA — a message aimed at the Granite State's large vet population. The truth is, as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sanders sabotaged VA reform. Sanders' allegiance is to public sector unions, not vets. You wouldn't know that, hearing him on the campaign trail.

The next stops are Nevada, with about 226,000 vets and South Carolina, home to eight military bases and some 418,000 vets. You can bet Sanders will keep repeating his bogus claims, but he ought to be called out on them.

Sanders brags about the 2014 Veterans Choice and Accountability Act: "We went further than any time in recent history in improving health care for the men and women of the country who put their lives on the line to defend us." Yet since the law was passed, wait times are longer, not shorter, and ailing vets still get the runaround.

Last week, the VA Inspector General reported that a Colorado facility systematically faked records, and kept sick vets from getting appointments with private doctors. Meanwhile, the civil service bureaucracy reversed the demotions of two VA executives for a corrupt scheme that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. The laughable justification was that it would be unfair to punish them when so many others did the same and got away with it.

All along, Sanders' priority has been protecting VA jobs. In April 2014, a whistleblower exposed scandalous abuses at the Phoenix VA, where staff concealed wait lists to make themselves eligible for bonuses while sick vets suffered without care. In response, Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., proposed empowering the VA secretary to fire managers linked to such deceptions. But Sanders killed Rubio's bill.

Public sector unions were among the top contributors to Sanders' senatorial campaigns. No wonder he insisted on protecting "due process" rules that make it almost impossible to fire public employees.

Three months later, Congress passed the so-called VA reform bill, with Sanders taking his bows. But that law was a sham from day one. Sanders made sure of it. He demanded provisions that protected VA wrongdoers and blocked vets from accessing civilian care.

The law gives vets a "choice card," but it's a joke. First, vets must live 40 miles away from a VA facility or have waited 30 days for a doctor's appointment to be eligible. Then they need a letter confirming eligibility from the VA — good luck with that. Next, their civilian doctor has to call for preapproval before treatment — fat chance getting that call returned. After all that, outside treatment is capped at 60 days. Like you can cure cancer in two months.

Why the limit? VA jobs are tied to how many vets use the system. And Sanders protects civil service jobs like nobody else.

To date, only a handful of senior VA executives have been fired for the falsified wait lists even though a staggering 110 facilities were implicated.

Don't count on Sanders' rival, Hillary Clinton, to fix the VA, either. Until recently, she brushed off VA corruption as overblown. Now she wants to "modernize" the department, while darkly warning of a Koch Brothers' conspiracy to "privatize" the VA.

In truth, none of the GOP front-runners proposes closing down the VA, but all pledge to put vets in the driver's seat, allowing them to choose where to get care — without roadblocks.

It's about time.

The nation needs a president who will battle not only VA corruption, but also the entrenched civil service that answers to no one and bleeds taxpayers dry. The big question is, which one of the GOP front-runners can actually pull it off? The lives of thousands of vets hinge on it.

Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of "Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution." To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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