Los Angeles — In a speech here Tuesday evening, Donald Trump promised that he would dismantle and fix the system by which veterans receive health care.
Trump spoke aboard the USS Iowa, a decommissioned battleship used in World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War that now serves as a museum at the Port of Los Angeles. He was there at the invitation of Veterans for a Strong America (VSA), a 501(c)(4) group that has often praised him, and officially endorsed him at the start of the event.
Veterans have been a frequent focus of Trump’s campaign, for better and worse, over the last few months. In July, Trump drew criticism for saying Senator John McCain was “not a war hero.” (VSA was one of the only veterans’ groups to defend Trump after that comment.) Last week, he raised eyebrows by remarking that he had “always felt [he] was in the military” because he attended a military-style prep school.
Over the past two weeks, Trump has attempted to turn these controversies on their head by styling himself as a champion of veterans, who he has taken to saying are treated worse than some illegal immigrants. Last week, he called on CNN to donate the advertising profits from tomorrow’s Republican debate at the Reagan Library to charities supporting veterans.
On Tuesday, with three 20-meter naval cannons jutting into the air behind him, Trump promised to reform health care for veterans, saying the Veterans Administration had failed to live up to its mission.
‘You’re gonna get the greatest service of any veterans in any country,’ Trump promised the crowd.
“We’re gonna create a whole new system. We’re gonna take the system apart, and if they’re not doing the job, the veterans are going to go to private doctors, private hospitals,” Trump said. He said private doctors and hospitals that treated veterans would be reimbursed.
“You’re gonna get the greatest service of any veterans in any country,” Trump promised the crowd, to cheers.
He also promised big changes in military policy, to be detailed in a soon-to-be-released proposal.“We’re gonna be coming out with plans in a very short time, we’re gonna be building up our military,” Trump told the adoring crowd. “It will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever gonna have to use it.”
#share#Hundreds of fans and a cadre of media packed the fantail of the Iowa, which would have served as the ship’s helicopter landing pad when it was in active service, holding Trump signs with an event-appropriate version of his campaign slogan: “Make America’s Military Great Again.” Among those in attendance were Chuck Laudner, the architect of Trump’s Iowa campaign, and Sam Clovis, the Iowa operative who recently signed on with Trump as a senior policy adviser.
Game-show host Wink Martindale kicked off the event, followed by Tim Abell, a veteran with a show on the Outdoors Channel, and finally VSA chairman Joel Arends, who introduced and enthusiastically endorsed Trump.
“I want a president who will live up to the promise of Lincoln when he said, ‘We will care for those who were wounded in battle.’ Well, folks, I’m here to tell you today you’re not gonna get that courage with the political class. It’s time to consider somebody else,” Arends said.
#related#The battleship, named for the state that will hold the first presidential nominating contest (“Iowa’s a great place for a lot of reasons,” Trump joked in the speech), provided a storied setting for the event. Nicknamed the Battleship of Presidents, it has played host to three presidents, more than any other ship of its kind. Notably, given the location of tomorrow’s debate, Ronald Reagan came aboard the Iowa to celebrate the Statue of Liberty’s centenary in 1984. President George H. W. Bush, whose son Jeb is currently locked in a war of Instagram videos with Trump as the two vie for the Republican nomination, has also been a guest on the ship.
Trump’s speech clocked in at just 13 minutes. But before he exited the stage, the Republican front-runner took care of one final piece of pressing business.
The billionaire, clad in a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, began tossing several of the now-iconic hats into the crowd.
“This is the hottest item out there,” he said, as he tossed a few to audience members.
— Alexis Levinson is a senior political reporter for National Review.