Jeb Bush rolls out VA reforms during swing through South Carolina

Jeb Bush and the Swift Boaters
Jeb Bush and the Swift Boaters

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Story highlights

  • On swing through the South, Jeb Bush is unveiling a new slate of policies aimed at veterans
  • Bush would try to make the VA smaller and more efficient

Columbia, South Carolina (CNN)It's no coincidence that Jeb Bush chose South Carolina as the backdrop for the rollout of his plan to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs: the state is steeped in military history, runs several active military bases, and houses a large population of retired veterans.

After all, according to CNN exit polls from 2012, 21% of GOP primary voters identified as veterans.
    The former Florida governor, who did not serve in the military himself but whose father and brother did, has a list of announcements expected Monday, starting with a veterans steering committee list that includes two Medal of Honor recipients here in South Carolina and 10 more nation-wide.
    Of the endorsements, Bush said in a press release, "As President, I'm committed to a safe America through a strong military, and having a strong military includes having policies that will keep our country's commitment to our veterans after active service."
    He met with these veterans Monday in a closed-door event in Charleston before heading to Columbia for a town hall in the evening.
    After the Charleston meeting, Bush addressed the media and explained why he had chosen South Carolina, as opposed to other early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, for his veterans rollout.
    "South Carolina, given its military presence here and the number of veterans that are from South Carolina and who have moved in. This is fast-growing state, it has one of the highest percentages of veterans. It makes a lot of sense," he said, as Gen. James Livingstone stood solemnly behind him wearing his light blue Medal of Honor neck ribbon.
    Bush also laid out his policy agenda for the overhaul of the Department of Veteran's Affairs in two pieces published Monday morning, all of which he expounded upon this evening in his Concerned Veterans for America town hall address in the capital city of Columbia.
    During his evening speech, Bush outlined several keys areas that need reform: "empowering" veterans to be able to choose their own doctors if options are limited within the VA system; recognize that female veterans require other health needs like gynecologists and doctors trained to treat breast cancer; and also the ability for VA doctors to fill prescriptions from outside doctors.
    In his National Review op-ed, attacked the antiquated administrative practices of the department, citing a staggering $4.7 billion spent annually on information technology, while noting that there is not a "simple app that allows veterans to make appointments, get medical advice, or refill a prescription from a smartphone or tablet."
    He added at Monday night's event: "All of these things would make the Veteran's Administration run more like a 21st-century enterprise."
    Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and who served as moderator for the town hall, directly asked Bush what he thought of Donald Trump's recent admission that he gets his foreign policy advice from watching the Sunday shows.
    The former governor shook his head and replied, "I get my military advice from really dedicated group of young policy men and women who are serving in the campaign ... I'm not going to fall into the trap of sitting around watching 'Meet the Press' and get my foreign policy advice from that. I think it needs to be a little more organized than that."
    Like his campaign refrain of shrinking Washington, Bush wants to see the VA whittled down, saying that it's nearly impossible right now to fire a VA employee and overhead costs are sucking money away from actually caring for veterans.
    GOP candidates have been heavy on the pro-military and strong national security front here in South Carolina.
    Rand Paul spoke to a Concerned Veterans for America forum in Charleston in July and echoed some of Bush's same sentiments, especially regarding the ability for veterans to seek outside medical attention if the VA does not suffice.
    Last week, in Anderson, South Carolina, Rick Perry -- an Air Force veteran -- asked the veterans in the room to raise their hands. Many shot up in the air.
    South Carolina GOP chairman Matt Moore said many voters in South Carolina have a close tie with at least one veteran.
    "Almost every other South Carolina voter has ties to the military, either through their work or through a veteran in their family. It's hard to understate how important the military community is in South Carolina," he said.