VIRGINIA BEACH – Donald Trump promised Monday to set up a White House hotline for veterans with a complaint about the Department of Veterans Affairs – and if any of the millions in the system have a valid complaint that isn't fixed, he said he would take care of it himself.
"I'll pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to," Trump told the roughly 175 supporters at a hastily arranged rally in Virginia Beach.
Nearly 5.9 million veterans are enrolled in in the VA health system and 3.8 million receive disability benefits. If 1 percent had a valid complaint that required a one-minute phone call to resolve, that would account for 202 days a year.
Trump promised to clean house at the VA, ticking off a series of scandals, from the deaths of veterans while on a waiting list for care to the bonuses paid executives who oversaw massive cost overruns.
"Can you imagine the waste and corruption we'll find when we begin a full investigation in January?" he said.
He repeated the series of proposals to improve the VA that he first made in a Norfolk campaign stop last October, including freeing veterans to go to doctors and hospitals outside the VA system, paid for by taxpayers.
Trump called for an expansion of VA mental health services, adding that mental health care generally needed to be expanded and improved.
He said he wanted to revise civil service rules to allow VA officials to be fired or disciplined if they did not do their jobs, and would pay bonuses to VA employees who found ways to save money and improve care. Trump said he'd also boost efforts to help veterans find jobs.
"Veterans should come first," he said.
He kicked off what his campaign billed as a major speech on veterans with a call for Americans to support police.
"I am the law and order candidate," he said.
"American police and law enforcement are all that separate civilization from total chaos and the destruction of our country as we know it," he said.
Trump said his support for police contrasted with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, adding that her use of a private email server, recently criticized by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey as careless but not criminal, showed a contempt for law.
"Hilliary Clinton is the secretary of the status quo and wherever Hillary Clinton goes, corruption and scandal follow," he said.
He said Clinton's private server put Americans' safety and security at risk, while deliberately trying to hide her communications from voters and federal officials.
Introduced by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump spoke at the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center.
Sandra Kerr, who drove from Colonial Heights, south of Richmond, to hear Trump, said she was pleased by his support of veterans.
John Presto, a 28-year Navy veteran, said, "I like the way he's not politically correct – political correctness is how the liberals take away our freedom of speech."
But retired Brig. Gen. David McGinnis, of Williamsburg, said Trump's comments on the military have been insulting.
"A Trump presidency would be dangerous for veterans," said McGinnis, who also was an acting assitant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama.
McGinnis said Trump's repeated praise of Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists "is just so unbelievable and so unbelievably insulting to so many people – to the soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and the families who lost their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their best friends."
Outside, several dozen protesters gathered, behind a large banner saying "Stop Police Violence."
"He's just piling hate on hate," said Evelyn Frederick, a Navy veteran who lives in Norfolk. She said she also feels Trump's business record, which includes the bankruptcy of four companies, makes her question his economic policies.
It was Trump's third campaign visit to Hampton Roads, following an October event at the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk and a forum at Regent University in Virginia Beach.
Clinton met with veterans and military families in Hampton last month, saying she would make support of military families and veterans a priority.
Clinton has said she would streamline the Veterans Health Administration so that it coordinates with TRICARE, Medicare and other federal programs and purchases some private sector care.
Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535.