VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Touting himself as the “law and order candidate,” Republican Donald Trump pledged Monday to crack down on Department of Veterans Affairs employees who fail to serve veterans, his latest in a series of prepared remarks aimed at articulating his policy agenda for his general election campaign.
“We made a promise to these heroes. You defend America, and America will defend you,” Trump said, adding that he would fire or discipline VA employees who “fail our veterans” or breach the public trust.
He also called for an expansion of programs that allow veterans to choose their doctor and clinics, regardless of whether they’re VA facilities or private medical centers, and still receive government-paid medical care.
“Never again will we allow a veteran to suffer or die waiting for the care they so richly deserve,” he said.
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Trump said his plan was not a way to privatize the VA, as some Democrats and veterans groups have warned.
“What it is is a way of not allowing people to die waiting for doctors,” he said. “You have people dying while waiting in line for doctors. This is a way that we’re going to end that. They are dying because they can’t even get to see a doctor.”
Trump offered few specifics beyond his 10-point plan, but he said he was confident it would save taxpayers money.
“I think it’s going to cost less money than what’s happening now,” he said.
Asked how he would negotiate due-process laws that have made it difficult for the VA to fire employees accused of wrongdoing, Trump said that would be no problem.
“We’re going to create a system where we get it done,” he said.
Asked about union objections, Trump said he has “been dealing with unions all my life. And you can deal with unions if you know what you’re doing.”
Trump has been working to repair his relationship with veterans since he suggested early in his campaign that Arizona Sen. John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War. Trump also raised eyebrows earlier this year when he failed to immediately disclose which veterans’ charities he’d given money to following a fundraiser he’d held in place of a GOP debate.
Trump said Monday he and McCain “work together fine,” and said he is considering Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as a possible VA secretary. Miller spoke to the crowd ahead of Trump.
“He certainly is someone a lot of people respect,” Trump said of Miller, who is retiring from Congress and has pushed measures to increase accountability at the VA.
In his speech Monday, Trump also addressed the killing of five police officers in Dallas during a protest against a pair of recent police shootings of black men.
“America’s police and law enforcement personnel are what separates civilization from total chaos— and the destruction of our country as we know it,” he said. “It is time for the hostility against our police, and against all members of law enforcement, to end.”
But he also referenced the two black men killed in recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, saying they make clear that work “must be done to ensure every American feels that their safety is protected.”
The remarks were a sharp contrast to the speech Trump delivered in the wake of the Orlando shooting, when he accused American Muslims of being too reluctant to cooperate with police.
The speech is the latest in a series of teleprompter-delivered prepared remarks aimed at convincing weary Republicans that Trump has the discipline and control to mount a credible general election bid against likely rival Hillary Clinton.
The event began with remarks from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is one of a handful of potential vice presidential contenders Trump is currently vetting. Trump has been bringing his finalists along with him on the campaign trail in a parade that brings to mind reality show tryouts.
Under his original plan, eligible veterans would be able to bring their veterans’ identification cards to any private doctor or facility that accepts Medicare and be able to receive immediate treatment. The change, he argued, would help improve wait times and services by adding competition.
AP writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report from New York.