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Rubio Campaign Press Release - READ: Marco Rubio Lays Out His Vision for Fixing the VA (Alongside His Green Beret Brother)

December 10, 2015


Following are Marco's remarks as prepared for delivery to a Concerned Veterans for America event in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 10, 2015.

Less than two months from today, here in this very state, we'll begin the process of choosing the next president of the United States. And after 7 years of Barack Obama, it's helpful to remind ourselves exactly what that means.

The president's job is not to micromanage the private economy. It's not to make your healthcare decisions. And it's not to try and change the weather. The first job of our president — as stated in the Constitution — is actually the last thing President Obama seems interested in doing, and that is serving as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States.

So in just two months, we'll begin choosing the person who will be in charge of the world's greatest military, the person responsible for protecting the safety of your children and mine. And with that honor comes another extraordinary duty: That of representing those who put their lives on the line for freedom.

Now, as a state that sees its fair share of politicians, you'll know that it's in vogue to pay lip service to our veterans and troops. But you'll also know that talk is cheap, and that candidates must be judged not just on what they say, but on what they do. So today, I'll tell you exactly what I've done for our service men and women over the years, and exactly what I'll do to uphold my duty to them as president.

I believe our Commander-in-Chief's duty to our men and women in uniform comes in two parts. The first is to honor our troops while they're serving; the second is to honor them after they come home.

Honoring them while they're serving begins with reducing the likelihood that they will be pulled into conflict. The way to do that is not to ignore threats — it's to project American Strength abroad, to stand beside allies such as Israel, stand up to enemies such as Iran, and engage strategically around the world.

Throughout our history, presidents from both parties have understood that strength is a means of preventing war, not promoting it. To restore strength, I will reverse the defense cuts that politicians in Washington, including some Republicans now running for president, have fought to keep and even deepen. The military will no longer be used as a pawn in budget negotiations.

While I agree with those who argue that the Department of Defense, like every agency, must eliminate financial waste, I also understand that defense is the reason we have a federal government in the first place. Our nation cannot function without security. This is why every time we try to cut a dollar from defense, it seems to cost us several more just to make up for it.

I will return strength to our military as the first means of honoring our troops. But there may be times when that is not enough to deter conflict, when evil marches forward and tests us anyway. It is in these times that the president of the United States is faced with his most difficult decision.

Choosing whether or not to send troops into combat is one of the greatest burdens of any office in the world. It impacts not just the mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, who go into conflict, but also the family and friends who spend so many sleepless nights praying for their safety.

If you've ever seen the videos where a member of our armed forces surprises their family by coming home early, you know how emotional those reunions can be. They're emotional just to watch, because we all inherently understand the burden and sacrifice the families of our armed forces carry, and we understand that sacrifice should never be called on lightly.

If I must make this difficult decision as Commander-in-Chief, I will recognize that I also have a duty to be the Communicator-in-Chief. And I will speak directly and honestly to the American people about exactly why our national security interests are at stake and exactly why military engagement is the best or only option to address the problem.

And I will also make this pledge here and now: I will never send our men and women in uniform into a fair fight, but will always equip them with the resources and strategies to keep the upper hand. Any candidate proposing that we keep the defense cuts imposed under sequestration cannot make that promise.

Finally, our troops will also be backed by something else they've been missing under our current president, and that is a full commitment to victory.  Our military will never again doubt their Commander-in-Chief's support for their mission, nor will they question America's commitment to winning.

Those principles will guide my duty to our active service members. But what about the second part of every president's duty to those who serve? It's been too long since Washington has properly cared for those who have cared for us.  We will change that when I'm president.

Before I explain how, I want to pause for a moment and introduce you to someone who traveled all the way from Florida to be with us today. That's my brother, Mario Rubio.

Mario joined the Army in July of 1968, the month after he graduated high school, and he served in the Army's 7th Special Forces Group — the Green Berets — until April of 1971, which happened to be the month before I was born. In fact, one of the first things he did when he returned from duty was drive my mom to the hospital to have me.

All throughout my childhood I looked up to Mario. He had been a football star in high school, which was already enough to make him a legend in my mind. But most importantly, I remember it being a tremendous source of pride for my family, especially for my parents and grandfather, that he had risked his life for the country that had given us so much.

But today, like many thousands of other veterans, Mario is struggling to get the care owed to him for an injury he suffered during his service. He was hit in the mouth while in jump school, bending his front teeth back in a way that became an orthodontic nightmare. He was driven to the dentist at Fort Benning where they did some initial work to correct the damage, but the Army never made an official record of the visit.

So today, he needs more orthodontic work as a result of his injury, but the VA won't cover it. He's had to file a claim and wait for a hearing, which could take anywhere from 18 months to three years. Meanwhile, he's stuck waiting for the procedures he needs.

Mario is going through the exact same bureaucratic nightmare every other veteran in his situation has to go through. And like so many of them, he will tell you how confusing it has been, how even the forms he has to fill out seem almost intentionally complicated. He's often met with the same charm and efficiency at the VA that the rest of us find at the DMV.

My brother, like all of our veterans, deserves better. When I am president, they will have better.

Here's what the media doesn't want you to know: One of the reasons the VA is so incompetent is that union bosses have rigged the system, making it almost impossible to fire VA employees no matter how bad they are.

This is why I worked in the wake of the VA scandal to change the law to allow the VA secretary to fire any corrupt or negligent bureaucrats. It wasn't easy. I had to take on Bernie Sanders, who actually tried to block my bill. I took on the Unions. I took on every one of them to put the interests of veterans above the interests of bureaucrats, and I succeeded.

But even with this success, little has changed. Few have been fired. Corruption still runs rampant.

For example, two VA officials were recently found to have defrauded the department of $400,000. But they weren't fired; they were merely demoted. And even that didn't last. Just last week, the VA rescinded the demotions. The examples like this are numerous. And all the while, our veterans languish.

I recently read a story about the mother of one wounded Army veteran in need of care. President Obama had written to her in 2009 promising to do all he could to help. But this year she decided to sell that note out of desperation to pay for her son's care. As she put it, "Something good might as well come out of that. It is doing no good lying in my drawer."

It's for reasons like this that I'm taking action again. I've filed a second bill that goes even further, allowing us to fire more than just the managers but also the lower level employees who are neglecting their duties. Yet the truth is we'll never be able to completely overhaul the system until we have a new Commander-in-Chief.

Hillary Clinton wants to be that Commander-in-Chief, but she refuses to admit there's a crisis, saying problems at the VA aren't as, quote unquote, "widespread" as has been reported. On this issue, like virtually every other, Hillary Clinton would keep the status quo the status quo.

I, on the other hand, will not just reform Washington; I will transform it.

My principles for transforming the VA are simple.

The first is accountability.

Accountability is the radical concept I just discussed — so radical that no one in Washington seems to have any clue what it is. And that is that any corrupt and negligent workers at the VA should be fired.

Now, let me be clear: there are a lot of good people at the VA. Many are veterans themselves. And the other side of accountability is that, if you're doing a good job, you should be recognized and valued for your hard work. But those who are not doing a good job will be fired when I am president.

My next principle is transparency.

We need transparency in order for accountability to work.

One reason we're not seeing the results we wanted out of our first effort at reforming the VA is that we simply have no way of verifying what's happening. I'd love to be able to give you a specific number of people who have been fired as a result of my law, but no one knows what that number is. The VA is claiming it's in the hundreds, but the fact checkers have laughed that off. They estimate it's in the 20s. Others say it's in the single digits. But no one knows. And this is how bureaucrats at the VA get away with it all.

When I am president, we'll know what's happening. I will require the VA and VHA to report publicly on all aspects of its operation, including quality, safety, patient experience, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness. And with that information, we'll be empowered to make decisions and make lasting changes to the system.

My third and final principle for transforming the VA is choice.

When I'm president, benefits are going to follow the veteran; the veteran is not going to have to follow the benefits. That means if the local VA doesn't provide efficient and high quality care but the hospital around the corner does, you will be able to take your VA benefits and go to that hospital. Veterans facing health problems of all kinds, including mental health issues, need to have the option to seek care from private providers in a way that also preserves traditional VA services.

This, by the way, is important for Mario because he needs periodontal work done but there isn't a periodontist with the VHA anywhere near him. To get the care he needs, he'll have to go to a private provider.

These three principles I've discussed — accountability, transparency, and choice — have the power to truly transform this and any system.

I've given you the "what" and "how" of our president's duty to our men and women in uniform, but I want to close by giving you the "why." Because I believe the "why" of America's military might, more than anything else, is what has been missing for the past seven years.

Let me start with this personal note.

When Mario and I were kids, even though we grew up years apart, we both were greatly influenced by our grandfather. He lived with my family for most of our childhoods. Mario shared a room with him. And years later, I would sit with him for hours on our porch, sometimes discussing whatever fascinations occupied my attention at the time. But most of all, I would listen.

I would listen to his stories of growing up in Cuba, stories of the pain of losing his country. And I would listen to him speak about the leaders and ideas that inspired him. He revered Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, detested communism, and believed with all his heart that the United States was destined to be the defender of human progress throughout the world.

Our lessons took place against the backdrop of the Cold War. It's easy to forget today just how tense those times were for America — the nuclear drills in school in the '60s, the worried reports on the evening news, the frenzied debates about communism that dominated campaigns.

In some ways, what we're going through today is similar — not just with a resurgent Russia and other traditional powers, but also with our civilizational struggle against radical Islam. Like the Cold War, this is a clash of ideologies, and we have to win.

To win against Soviet-style communism, presidents from Truman to Kennedy to Reagan knew we needed to couple America's military might with an equally mighty defense of her values, not just as right for America but as right for the world.

Truman once said: "God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose. … It is given to us to defend the spiritual values—the moral code—against the vast forces of evil that seek to destroy them."

Reagan understood this concept, too — better than most. He inspired a belief in it in both our citizens and our military. And because of him, the Cold War was won.

But today, in this time of mounting turmoil, our president believes something different.

He believes America has been a bully for too many years — that we should be more accepting of other values, even when they violate the God-given rights this nation was founded on. We see this in his dealings with Cuba and Iran, and his indifference to Israel. We see it in the way he lectures Christians not to get on a "high horse" in condemning radical Islam.

There is no doubt in my mind that his weakness, both moral and strategic, has led to the discord we see around the world today. This, in turn, has endangered our people as well as the men and women in uniform who are called to defend them.

As president, my cause will be peace, and I will understand that the only means of achieving it are strength of arms and strength of values. That is the lesson of history.

My grandfather's lessons all those years ago were true. And he inspired in both Mario and me a desire to serve this extraordinary country — the country that gave us all the chances in life that he never had himself. Mario served in the noblest way of all. I strive to serve, too — though I will never completely repay the debt I owe to America.

But I pledge this: As president, in all that I do, I will honor the two centuries of veterans who have defended this exceptional nation and the values it represents, and I will honor the brave men and women in uniform who carry on that legacy today. I will honor them by defending their dignity in Washington, by proudly advancing the values many have died to defend, by uniting our people around the common cause of liberty, and by promoting the security our nation needs to thrive in our time and for all time.

Marco Rubio, Rubio Campaign Press Release - READ: Marco Rubio Lays Out His Vision for Fixing the VA (Alongside His Green Beret Brother) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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