Hillary Clinton greets supporters after taking part in a roundtable discussion with veterans in Reno, Nev., in June.

Hillary Clinton greets supporters after taking part in a roundtable discussion with veterans in Reno, Nev., in June. Lance Iversen/Associated Press

Veterans Group Slams Hillary Clinton in Ad

The group also urges Congress to pass legislation making it easier to fire VA employees.

A conservative veterans group has launched ads in two battleground states criticizing Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton for appearing to downplay the wait times and data manipulation scandal at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The 30-second ad, sponsored by Concerned Veterans for America, highlights various news headlines about mismanagement at the VA, followed by a clip from an Oct. 23 interview between Rachel Maddow and Clinton on Maddow’s eponymous MSNBC show. In the exchange, Maddow says “there has been real scandal” at the department; Clinton agrees, then says: “But it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” In the full exchange, which the ad does not depict, Clinton says Republicans have been “berating” the VA “in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.”

CVA Chief Executive Officer Pete Hegseth said Clinton’s remarks “were callous, dismissive and painfully out of touch. The mentality her statements reflect is exactly what led to the widespread scandals at the VA in the first place.”

Last year, it came to light that department employees at the Phoenix VA medical facility had falsified patient data to cover up severe delays in scheduling medical appointments for vets. Those problems cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job and sparked a management overhaul by his successor, Bob McDonald. Similar issues have cropped up elsewhere throughout the department, in addition to instances of mail and claims mismanagement, retaliation against whistleblowers, allegations of overprescription of opioids, and controversies over senior executives’ compensation.

Veterans groups and others have criticized Clinton’s remarks. On Nov. 2, The Washington Post fact-checked Clinton’s claim in that same interview that several surveys showed vets by and large are satisfied with VA health care. As part of that report, Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon provided a statement to the Post that said in part, “Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that the systemic problem of excessive wait times at the VA is an outrage, but she refuses to believe the VA is beyond fixing.”

CVA’s ads, which are running in Florida and South Carolina, also call on Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier to fire all poor-performing or malfeasant VA employees, not just senior executives. The House passed the 2015 VA Accountability Act in July, and legislation now is pending in the Senate. House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said on Wednesday he is confident the two chambers will eventually strike a deal and pass some kind of accountability measure. President Obama has said he would veto H.R. 1994 if it reached him.