Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ignited a Republican firestorm last Friday when she downplayed the scandal dogging the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"There have been a number of surveys of veterans, and overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment," Clinton said during an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
"Nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have."
Last year, bombshell revelations rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy. Notably, wait-time statistics were manipulated to make it appear that more veterans were receiving care than reality, and some veterans had died while waiting for service.
Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, agreed that it was a "real scandal," but told Maddow that "it's not been as widespread as it has been made out to be."
Those comments became a fierce campaign issue this week.
“Hillary Clinton's remarks downplaying the significance of the scandal in which veterans died awaiting care at VA hospitals in Phoenix and across our nation while corrupt bureaucrats collected bonuses are disgraceful, and show a total lack of appreciation for the crisis facing veterans' health care today," Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said in a Monday statement.
"Hillary denying the VA has a problem is an insult to our vets. We need to make fixing the VA a priority and I plan to do just that," presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) tweeted Tuesday.
And in a Wednesday morning conference call organized by the Republican National Committee, McCain and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) fumed at Clinton for her "very offensive" interview comments. McCain, a veteran and the Republican Party's 2008 presidential nominee, and Miller chair their chambers' respective committees on veterans affairs.
"I don't know what Hillary Clinton's view of what 'widespread' is, but facts are stubborn things," McCain said, detailing all of the problems revealed by the scandal.
McCain again called Clinton's comments "disgraceful" and called for her to apologize to all veterans.
Later in the call, McCain was asked if he thought Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Clinton's chief primary rival, would do a better job than Clinton in the White House on veterans' issues. While he said he didn't want to show "favoritism" toward any Democratic candidate, McCain went on to tout Sanders' record as the head of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
"I will say that Bernie Sanders worked very hard when he was chair of the veterans' affairs committee," McCain said. "We were able to come together and pass legislation that was nearly unanimous. So he does have a record of advocacy for our veterans."
He added: "To my knowledge, I know of no activity that Hillary Clinton, legislative or otherwise, was engaged in during her time as United States senator."
Clinton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on the criticism.
Additional reporting by Brett LoGiurato.
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