President Trump expressed rare agreement with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive star in the Democratic Party often criticized by Republicans, tweeting Wednesday that Ocasio-Cortez was "correct" to praise the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He did, however, qualify his agreement with her.
"Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct, the VA is not broken, it is doing great. But that is only because of the Trump Administration. We got Veterans Choice & Accountability passed," Mr. Trump tweeted. Ocasio-Cortez had expressed her disagreement with privatization of the VA in a town hall last week, saying that the agency "isn't broken" and provides "some of the highest quality" care to veterans.
"All I can think of is that classic refrain that my parents always taught me growing up, is that: 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" she said. Democrats have argued that the Trump administration is promoting policies that would privatize all military health care. In 2018, Congress passed the Mission Act to address wait time and access to care for veterans. The act could nearly quadruple the number of veterans who may go outside the federal system to seek private-sector care at taxpayer expense. The law is set to go into effect in June.
Ocasio-Cortez was widely criticized for her comments by Republicans in Congress.
"While Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and I have VA medical facilities in and near our districts with great quality ratings, not all veterans are so lucky. That's not to mention the many student veterans across the nation who struggled to pay their bills last fall due to VA's failure to properly process their GI Bill benefits, or the many veterans who wait years for decisions on their disability claims," said Rep. Phil Roe, the ranking member of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, in a statement to Fox News.
"Problems and inconsistencies like that are the definition of a system that needs fixing," he said. "I am baffled as to how Rep. Ocasio-Cortez fails to see that."
GOP Rep. Greg Steube also told Fox News that "this Department is failing on multiple fronts."
The high rate of veteran suicide is also cause for concern among critics of VA. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, at least 22 military veterans committed suicide at VA centers in the U.S. in the last 18 months, including a Texas man who shot himself in the waiting room of a VA clinic. The VA has found that there were over 6,000 veteran suicides each year between 2008 to 2016.
However, VA Secretary Robert Wilkiethis month that the "VA alone cannot answer mental health issues." To that end, Wilkie said he relies on the help of the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Health and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to combat the top issues facing veterans.
"My view is at the end, when it comes to the new approach we will send resources to the states and localities, to non-governmental organizations," said Wilkie. "We're not divorced at VA from the problems that impact America's health system."