WASHINGTON — When Senator Bernie Sanders was tapped last year to head the Veterans Affairs Committee, the famed antiwar agitator and avowed socialist quickly emerged as a leading defender of those who served in uniform, calling it “a moral responsibility” to ensure they “get the best quality health care that we can possibly provide.”
But after serious mismanagement in the US Department of Veterans Affairs — and evidence that 18 veterans died while placed on secret waiting lists — the Vermont independent has come under fire from some veterans groups that say he has defended the government-run system too strongly.
The 72-year-old lawmaker’s stance, which is heavily influenced by his longtime support for government health care for all, has led some to accuse him of being blinded by ideology and not sufficiently using his oversight authority to force changes.
“I don’t think chairman Sanders has been effective. He has become an apologist for the VA,” said Paul Reickhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the largest veterans group representing veterans who served after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “It seems to have to do with his worldview. He seems to think that any kind of demand for accountability or criticism of the VA is an attack to dismantle the entire system. Nobody is saying that. We’re saying if you want VA to be supported, then make VA work.”
In a recent interview, Sanders stressed that his defense of the overall veterans health care system does not mean he takes lightly the revelations that veterans who were placed on waiting lists for so-called outpatient specialty care may have died while waiting to see a specialist.
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