VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - Touting himself as the “law and order candidate,” Republican Donald Trump pledged Monday to crack down on Department of Veterans Affairs employees who fail to serve veterans, his latest in a series of prepared remarks aimed at articulating his policy agenda for his general election campaign.
“We made a promise to these heroes. You defend America, and America will defend you,” Trump said, adding that he would fire or discipline VA employees who “fail our veterans” or breach the public trust.
He also called for an expansion of programs that allow veterans to choose their doctor and clinics, regardless of whether they’re VA facilities or private medical centers.
“Never again will we allow a veteran to suffer or die waiting for the care they so richly deserve,” he said.
Trump has been working to repair his relationship with veterans since he suggested early in his campaign that Arizona Sen. John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War. Trump also raised eyebrows earlier this year when he failed to immediately disclose which veterans’ charities he’d given money to following a fundraiser he’d held in place of a GOP debate.
Trump also addressed the killing of five police officers in Dallas during a protest against a pair of recent police shootings of black men.
“America’s police and law enforcement personnel are what separates civilization from total chaos — and the destruction of our country as we know it,” he said. “It is time for the hostility against our police, and against all members of law enforcement, to end — and to end right now.”
But he also referenced the two black men killed in recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, saying they make clear that work “must be done to ensure every American feels that their safety is protected.”
The remarks were a sharp contrast to the speech Trump delivered in the wake of the Orlando shooting, when he accused American Muslims of being too reluctant to cooperate with police.
The speech is the latest in a series of teleprompter-delivered prepared remarks aimed at convincing weary Republicans that Trump has the discipline and control to mount a credible general election bid against likely rival Hillary Clinton.
The event began with remarks from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is one of a handful of potential vice presidential contenders Trump is currently vetting. Trump has been bringing his finalists along with him on the campaign trail.
The presumptive GOP nominee delivered his remarks in Virginia Beach, Virginia, not far from the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, where he first unveiled his plan to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs last October. Then he promised to modernize the system, minimize wait times for patients and improve care in the wake of the 2014 Veterans Affairs scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records by VA employees to cover up the delays.
“The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs is absolutely unacceptable,” read the plan that Trump unveiled then. “The guiding principle of the Trump plan is ensuring veterans have convenient access to the best quality care.”
Under his original plan, eligible veterans would be able to bring their veterans’ identification cards to any private doctor or facility that accepts Medicare and be able to receive immediate treatment. The change, he argued, would help improve wait times and services by adding competition.
Trump reiterated his support for such a plan Monday, saying his proposal would go further than the Veterans Choice program, a centerpiece of the 2014 VA overhaul. Under that program, veterans can access federally-paid medical care from local, non-VA doctors — but only if they’ve waited at least 30 days for a VA appointment or live at least 40 miles away from a VA medical center.
A congressional commission report released last week recommended replacing the program with a new, nationwide community care network that would be open to all veterans, regardless of how long they have waited for care or where they live.
Trump’s plan Monday also included a call for more investment in veterans’ mental health care and pledges to discipline federal workers who abuse the system and appoint a commission to investigate the VA and present its findings to Congress. It is unclear how that commission would be different from the one that unveiled its findings last week.
Trump also proposed overhauling the current visa programs “to ensure American Veterans are in the front, not back, of the line.”