Just before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders excoriated Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s record to a cheering crowd of 10,000 at a Madison arena on Wednesday night, Walker’s staff tweeted: “Thousands of veterans suffered in VA scandal yet @BernieSanders downplayed it & attacked those who exposed it.”
The tweet, to say the least, was misleading. The Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist, now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has long supported our veterans—even if he doesn’t support all our wars. And in 2014 he accomplished the last thing you might expect from a candidate whose campaign brand is firebrand: He negotiated a major bipartisan agreement with two conservatives to deal with the veterans health care crisis.
In spite of—or perhaps because of—his aversion to war, Sanders has a long history of committed service to veterans. He became chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee in 2013, and that is how he wound up at the negotiating table with Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida.
They were driven there by scandal. Veterans across the country were waiting months on end for appointments and the wait times were being hidden. Up to 40 veterans in Phoenix died while waiting for appointments. Hundreds never even got onto a list. And retaliation was the order of the day for those who tried to blow the whistle.
From the moment the long-gathering scandal broke into public view in April 2014, it took Congress less than four months to produce a new law—a split second by Capitol Hill standards. That it happened at all, and so fast, was a testament to the determination of Sanders and his partners to surmount the red-blue divide in American politics. It speaks volumes in particular about Sanders, who pushes for a single-payer government health system in every speech, that the law introduced a private-care option for veterans.