Days before Veterans Day on Nov. 11, the White House released a statement in which President Donald Trump claimed "tremendous progress has been made in a short period of time" regarding his administration's efforts to reform the Department of Veteran Affairs and better support veterans. But some have argued the president's claims about progress are a bit overblown, given the promises Trump has made to veterans that have yet to be fulfilled.
"From insulting POWs by saying they were only heroes because they were captured, to insulting families of the fallen, to stiffing veterans charities until the Washington Post exposed him, to moving to privatize the Department of veterans affairs, Donald Trump has shown that his feelings about veterans only go as far as how much he can get out of us for his own purposes," Will Fischer, an Iraq War vet and VoteVets' director of Government Relations, tells Bustle. "Donald Trump is easily — easily — the most anti-veteran president in the history of this country. It's not even close."
Reactions to the president's actions regarding veterans are mixed. While some like Fischer have condemned Trump as being anti-veteran, others argue there's been both harm and help. "Veterans and the military have been a common theme in rhetoric from the White House," Allison Jaslow, an Iraq War veteran and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) says. "That has both benefited and hurt our community, as new laws to strengthen the VA have landed on the president's desk, but unfortunate politicization has distorted our diversity."
Jaslow also criticized the White House's silence on the Marines United nude photo scandal (which involved a private Facebook group of some 30,000 active and retired military men crowdsourcing nude photos of female service members) and IAVA's "She Who Borne The Battle" campaign (which seeks to recognize and improve services for female veterans). "[It's] disappointing to say the least, and reaffirms to women veterans that they're invisible," Jaslow says.
There Are Still Significant Delays In Access To Care
One of biggest issues facing veterans is delayed access to health care. In a speech at a Sept. 22 campaign rally for Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange, Trump appeared to claim veterans were now facing fewer delays when attempting to obtain immediate care. "Now [veterans] go right outside, they go to a doctor in the area, we pay the bill, and it's the least expensive thing we can do and we save everybody's life and everybody's happy," the president told the crowd in Huntsville, Alabama.
This wasn't the first time Trump had made such a claim. During a speech in July, the president appeared to claim veterans were no longer having to wait for health care. "I used to go around and talk about the veterans and they'd stand on line for nine days, seven days, four days... 15 days. People that could have been given a prescription and been better right away end up dying waiting on line," he said. "That's not happening anymore."
Except that according to multiple other sources, veterans are still facing lengthy wait times when seeking access to medical care. The Associated Press, for example, reported having recorded wait times of more than two months and the Government Accountability Office has reported wait times have the potential to be as long as 81 days, meaning veterans are not getting the immediate care Trump has touted.
Limited Access To Care
While the Choice Program does allow veterans to receive care from a doctor outside a VA facility, it's not quite as easy as Trump has made it sound. For example, the program only allows visits to outside doctors if an individual's wait time is more than 30 days or if their travel distance to a VA facility would be more than 40 miles.
In a July 27 editorial for USA Today, Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin claimed the VA had increased the number of authorized outside care appointments by 26 percent compared to that same period of time last year. However, an unexpected budget shortfall announced in August reportedly caused the VA to begin limiting the number of outside care referrals it authorized, thus limiting access to care, according to the Associated Press.
And ccording to the White House, the Trump administration has overseen the VA's launch of the new "Access and Quality Tool," which is supposed to enable veterans to see wait times at VA locations. But tied into the VA's authorization of outside care are continued criticisms that the its wait time data is unreliable.
According to a USA Today review of a dozen VA facilities in North Carolina and Virginia, inaccuracies in wait times for appointments was widespread last year. In many cases, understated wait times prohibited veterans from being able to seek outside care. It is unclear if the wait time data being provided by the VA under the Trump administration is as unreliable.
Lengthy Wait Times For Medical Care
In June the Department of Veteran Affairs announced it would overhaul its IT system in an effort to reduce wait times for veterans seeking medical care by adopting the Electronic Health Record system used by the Department of Defense. However, this overhaul is expected to take seven to eight years to complete, according to Shulkin. Moreover, the total cost of overhauling the system remains unknown although estimates have put it between $4 billion and $16 billion.
Disability Compensation Appeals Backlog
In what the White House defined as an effort to streamline disability compensation appeal claims, Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 in August. The legislation allows vets to file a so-called "express" claim in exchange for waiving their right to a hearing and to submit any new evidence.
However, the legislation does nothing to reduce or address the current backlog of appeals. Which, according to the Associated Press, stands at more than 470,000. Moreover, according to Shulkin, the VA would need $800 million and 10 years to clear the current backlog of appeals.
Not Enough Funding To Help Veterans
A reportedly unexpected shortfall in funding for the VA's Veterans Choice Program led Congress to approve $2.1 billion in emergency stopgap funding in August in order to keep the program, which provides medical care for tens of thousands of veterans, afloat. However, the VA announced the emergency stopgap funds, which were supposed to hold the program over until February of 2018, would likely run out before then.
In order to keep the Veterans Choice Program going, legislators must approve even more funds by the end of the year or the tens of thousands of veterans could have their care impacted.
Trump's Hiring Freeze Hurt Veterans
Almost immediately after taking office, Trump imposed a federal hiring freeze, which critics have claimed hurt veterans in more than one way. Veterans get federal hiring preference and, according to The Hill, they make up a fairly significant portion of the federal employees. For example, The Hill reported veterans accounted for nearly one third of all new hires within the federal government in the 2015 fiscal year. In instituting a federal hiring freeze, Trump effectively limited job opportunities for veterans living in and around Washington, D.C.
According to advocates, Trump's hiring freeze likely had another impact on veterans. Although Trump spent much of his campaign promising improvement and reform at the Department of Veteran Affairs, his hiring freeze only exacerbated the department's already significant understaffing problem.
While his administration has vowed to take care of veterans, certain promises Trump's made have gone unfulfilled. According to exit polls conducted by CNN, veterans voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election by a roughly 2 to 1 margin, meaning they made up a fair portion of his support base. But while Trump boasted of big plans to boost veteran services and reform the VA on the campaign trail, his progress appears to have faltered.