Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association presidential forum on June 30, 2015, in Baltimore, Md.
Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP

GOP’s Ben Carson eyes end to Veterans Administration

Republican presidential candidates often like to talk about the cabinet agencies they’re eager to destroy. Just this week, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) dismissed the federal Department of Education as unnecessary. In the last presidential election, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) said he intended to scrap three cabinet agencies, though he famously forgot the third.
But when GOP candidates go after these agencies, they usually stick to departments like Commerce, Education, and occasionally Energy. Ben Carson, a leading 2016 contender, actually has a very different idea in mind. The Military Times reported:
Presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s comments suggesting the Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.
On a national radio show [on Aug. 27], Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.
The retired neurosurgeon said, “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense.”
As regular readers probably know, plenty of Republican presidential candidates support incorporating a voucher system into the VA, effectively privatizing parts of veterans’ care, but Carson is the first national candidate, at least in recent memory, to suggest eliminating the cabinet agency altogether.
John Biedrzyck, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, isn’t impressed. “To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own … and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day,” Biedrzyck said in a statement.
As the Military Times’ report added, Paralyzed Veterans of America Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. called Carson’s recommendation “a misguided notion born from ignorance of what each department does.”
In the event Carson somehow becomes the president, how realistic is the threat that he’ll actually scrap the entire agency?
Politico published a piece yesterday calling the idea “nearly impossible” to implement.
In Ben Carson’s case, he isn’t getting too deep into the details for his plan. But by combining the VA and Defense – with more than 340,000 employees and about 742,000 civilians respectively – his “cut” would easily make the biggest government department in U.S. history. Doug Watts, Carson’s communications director, told me that while Carson would make this issue “a top priority of his administration” he was also open to “other ideas that seem to work and service the vets.”
Which speaks to the final reason presidents don’t get these schemes done: As much fun as it might be to talk about, it’s not only hard and messy, but success would make you plenty of enemies in Washington.
Let the debate begin. One Republican presidential hopeful is sticking his neck out, saying he wants to eliminate the VA. Do any of his rivals agree?