President Barack Obama passed by the troubled Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix Thursday on his way to a speech about housing at Central High School. But his motorcade kept on going.
Some veterans had called on Obama to visit the hospital during his visit. Republicans were quick to criticize him Thursday for failing to visit.
“It is a testament to this president’s misplaced priorities that he would choose a photo op for his next executive action over visiting the VA hospital where veterans died on secret government waiting lists instead of getting care,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Obama is on a three-day, three-state swing Wednesday to highlight economic policies ahead of his annual State of the Union address this month.
In Phoenix, he defended his decision to order federal housing officials to lower the mortgage-insurance premiums borrowers pay when they get a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
The Arizona Republic ran an op-ed today “Why is Obama still snubbing the VA?”
“This morning, veterans in wheelchairs lined the sidewalk outside Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix and watched President Obama’s motorcade pass by without stopping on its way to Central High School, just around the block – one mile away,” Sen. John McCain, R-Az. said. “It is deeply disappointing that the president refused to take time to visit the veterans at the Phoenix VA, where the national scandal of mismanagement in VA health care first surfaced this spring.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday no visit had been planned. But he said “important personnel changes have been made at that facility there.”
“There have been substantial operational reforms in place that are ensuring that the needs of the veterans of Phoenix are being better met by the medical facility,” he said. “We’re pleased with the pace of reforms that have been put in place.”
For example, the hospital has added more than 300 employees since June 1, 2014, according to an administration official.
From May through October, the facility completed more than 300,000 veteran appointments, a 19 percent increase over the same period a year earlier, and cut wait times for new patients by 30 percent in 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.
It has also helped veterans get care outside the VA to help meet their needs: An 82.2 percent increase authorizations for care outside the VA made by the Phoenix VA compared to the same period in 2013.
In addition, the hospital has held held several town halls to hear directly from veterans, the official says.
“Some of those improvements are also the result of 19 executive actions that the president announced back in August to try to improve service delivery for our veterans at VA facilities across the country,” Earnest told reporters traveling to Phoenix aboard Air Force One. “And the president is certainly pleased that they’ve made these kinds of improvements. This is a priority for this administration. There’s obviously a lot more to do, and the president is going to continue to make sure that these issues are getting the focus that they need internally, that we can continue making important progress on these reforms.”