Kingston, N.H. — US Senator Ted Cruz said on Veterans' Day that if elected president, he would hold the US Department of Veterans Affairs and its employees accountable for "falsely denying care" and "anyone criminally liable will be prosecuted."
He made his comments Wednesday, following a September report by the VA's Office of Inspector General that calculated more than 300,000 veterans died while waiting for treatment. Speaking to about 175 people at a VFW post, Cruz said that he believes every veteran should have a choice of where to seek medical treatment.
"Listen, if you want to go to the VA, if you like the treatment you've been getting there, if you're happy with it, then you're entitled to do that, and that was a promise that we had made," he said. "But why can't every veteran choose to go to any doctor he or she wants? …. I believe each of our vets knows a heck of a lot better what is needed for [their] healthcare than does some bureaucrat in Washington."
Cruz spoke a day after former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton addressed the state of veterans health care at a campaign stop in Derry, N.H. Clinton pledged to fight the total privatization of veterans' health benefits.
Cruz specifically criticized Clinton for saying in an interview last month that problems at the VA were not "as widespread as it has been made out to be."
"What difference does it make that the VA has been keeping phantom ledgers, fake books, falsely denying care to our veterans, delaying vets weeks or months life saving treatments and then lying about it?" Cruz said. "There's no mystery whether there would be any accountability at the VA under a Hillary Clinton presidency. Let me tell you this, if I'm elected president, there is going to be accountability. People will be fired and anyone criminally liable will be prosecuted."
The Inspector General's report included records indicating that some 307,000 veterans had applied for care but died while waiting for their applications to be processed.
According to statistics from VA website, nearly 138,000 veterans are currently enrolled in the VA Healthcare System in Massachusetts, and 84,000 patients have received treatment as of September 2014.
Among the crowd were local veterans who joined Cruz on Wednesday to show their support for a candidate who, with his wife Heidi, thanked them for taking the pledge to serve their country.
Robert H. Davis, 69, of Danville, N.H., who served in the United States Air Force for 22 years before retiring in 1987, said he intends to vote for Cruz and came to support him. Davis said he usually has good luck receiving treatment from his government benefits. But, he said, there are things he would like to change.
"Sometimes it's a pain in the neck because I've got to go to Boston to get treatment, Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury," Davis said. "I'm traveling back and forth, and I'm up here (New Hampshire), and it's kind of a pain having to drive through the Boston traffic."
As for Cruz, Davis added, "Whatever he wants to do is fine with me. I know the guy is right on the game."
Other veterans in the room pressed for choice beyond their government-provided benefits system.
Bill Dunham, 68, of Brentwood, N.H., formerly of the United States Air Force and National Guard, said he had decided to support Cruz three weeks ago and was happy to hear the candidate speak on issues he cares so much about.
"You should be able to go, and have the right to use any physician and any hospital you like in the country," Dunham said.
In several recent national polls, Cruz has been either fourth or tied for third in the Republican presidential field, but he was 5th in one of the latest presidential primary polls in New Hampshire and tied for 7th in another. Both polls, by Monmouth University Polling Institute and WBUR/MassINC, respectively, were conducted between Oct. 29 and Nov. 1.