CHARLESTON, South Carolina— Jeb Bush laid out his plan to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve health care access for veterans during a campaign swing through South Carolina on Monday.
“I’m spending a lot of time learning about these issues because I intend to be president to fix a system that needs to be more focused on the unique needs of veterans as they leave service to this country,” the GOP presidential candidate told reporters.
Improving access to health care for veterans has been a top priority for both Republicans and Democrats on the campaign trail following the 2014 scandal that resulted in the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Bush introduced his plan here in the early primary state where veterans care continually ranks among the top issues to voters. Bush, whose campaign has been staggering in recent polls, also announced the endorsement of 12 Medal of Honor recipients ahead of the event.
Bush’s proposal to overhaul the VA would increase choice for veterans in how and where they can get treatment and offset additional costs by reducing the size of the federal government.
Expanded protection for whistleblowers, which helped uncover widespread mismanagement throughout the VA, as well as software upgrades and the implementation of digital veteran IDs are also part of Bush’s plan.
“Dealing with Putin, I say that’s a challenge. Dealing with ISIS, that’s a challenge,” Bush said. “Being able to create a website where, or electric scheduling for veterans -- these are things that happen, you know, in daily life in the private sector without a bunch of hoopla.”
Bush also called for an end to rapid troop drawdown, something he said would both fulfill the Pentagon’s need for more soldiers and help reduce the strain VA facilities are facing as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The former Florida governor has slammed President Barack Obama for removing combat troops from Iraq, which he believes has led to the rise of ISIS. Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, made the agreement to remove troops by the end of 2011, though Jeb Bush said the agreement should have been altered.
And for service men and women starting careers outside the military, Bush proposes using GI benefits to insure small business loans – noting the significant portion of veterans who are self employed and small business owners.
“This president has been absent, he's not -- his skill set is not in managing processes,” Bush said. “He’s never done it, he’s never had the experience of, here’s a challenge, here’s how we roll up our sleeves to create a strategy, stick with it, make sure you do the right phone calls to make sure it happens.”
Later Monday, Bush planned to appear at a town hall hosted by Concerned Veterans for America in Columbia, South Carolina ahead of attending a national security forum in the state on Tuesday.