Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tells veterans that 'having the power to choose' can help fix their health care issues

By FORREST MILBURN | The Dallas Morning News | Published: August 9, 2018

DALLAS, Texas (Tribune News Service) — When U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz asked a room of Texas veterans Wednesday if the quality of their health care had improved in the past year and a half, only a handful agreed.

"I asked that question the day before yesterday and about half the hands went up," he said. "So it varies quite a bit geographically. But that can be frustrating if you're in a community where that's not the sense of the vets dealing with the VA."

The Republican senator was addressing a crowd of around 200 former service members and their families in San Angelo, where one of the audience members mentioned the lack of "real, competent" doctors at the local Veterans Affairs clinic.

The event was hosted by Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group aligned with the billionaire conservative Koch brothers that brings members of both parties to speak at weekly "Defend and Reform" town halls.

Cruz's stop was one of several he has planned throughout the week as part of his "Texas Defends America" tour of state military bases. On Tuesday, he started off at a Coast Guard Air Station in Houston, where he was updated on preparations for the 2018 hurricane season. Earlier Wednesday, he met with service members at San Angelo's Goodfellow Air Force Base.

Over the past five years, Cruz said his office has helped nearly 4,500 Texas veterans navigate the "frustrating leviathan" of federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He told the San Angelo veterans that a lot of their health care issues could be fixed if they were given more choice in where to take their business, rather than hoping the government can solve things for them.

"If you don't understand what your doctor is saying and you're not getting the care you need, you have the right to go down the street to another doctor at another hospital," Cruz said. "What's going to solve this is empowering the patients, for you to make the decision."

In May, Cruz joined 91 other senators in passing a bill that intends to make it easier for vets to take their health care concerns to another hospital, one of several recent overhauls to the VA. The bill — signed into law by President Donald Trump in June — consolidates seven VA health programs into one, the Veterans Community Care Program, while expanding the ways veterans can get government-funded health care from private doctors.

"Nobody is better situated to assess the quality of the care you're getting than you are," Cruz said. "You should have the power to choose."

"You deserve the care you've earned," he added.

Cruz is locked in a tough fight for re-election against Congressman Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, though the race was rarely, if ever, touched on throughout the two-hour town hall. While Cruz was in San Angelo, O'Rourke was holding a town hall in Corpus Christi at the Valencia, an entertainment venue and bingo hall.

It's clear that the Koch-backed veterans group is throwing its grass-roots weight to Cruz in November, having applauded the senator for voting in support of the VA health care overhaul while not doing the same for O'Rourke, who also supported the bill when it came up for a House vote, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

The group is telling Texas voters that the Republican senator is a valuable partner to the network in Washington, as Dan Caldwell, the veterans group's executive director, reiterated to the crowd Wednesday evening.

"Sen. Cruz has been a real champion of veterans on Capitol Hill," Caldwell told the crowd before introducing the Texas senator. "His office is always open, and he's always been a pleasure to work with."

The senator continues his statewide military tour Thursday at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene before heading to Fort Hood in Killeen on Friday.

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