Marine and Navy veteran Montel Williams said over the weekend he would have to read the $17 billion VA bill before commenting. Now that he has read it, he still isn't happy.
"How ignorant can we be to put together a bill and come up with an amount of money to pay for it, and we don't even know what we're paying for," Williams said during a talk before a veterans group in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. "We just happened to notice that they specifically wrote in the bill that they're going to let them keep the bonuses."
Williams was unhappy that the bill cuts only about 10 percent of the controversial performance bonuses that critics say helped create the massive scandal of hidden wait times for sick veterans.
"There are VA people sitting in this room, I don't give a damn what you think about what I'm saying," Williams said. "If you participated in signing a paper that allowed you to get a bonus based on fraudulent, lying material, you should go to jail. Period."
Appearing later on Fox News Channel's "Your World with Neil Cavuto,"
Williams said he would be "over-the-top happy" if the bill could be implemented as smoothly as Congress passing the bill and the president signing it.
But it will be 60 days before anything reasonable is started, he said, including the rules that have to be put in place, then another 120 days before actual implementation.
He cited statistics that 22 soldiers a day commit suicide. The 180-day wait for implementation would see more than 400 additional soldiers take their own lives, he said.
Members of Congress "are already patting themselves on the back and getting ready to go home to their districts and say, 'We won,'" Williams said. "But they haven't."
Williams also worries the plan won't get past the rulemaking process. The bill does allow new VA Secretary Robert McDonald to fire upper-level people, but labor unions want input, which could stall the process.
Williams has been calling for what he terms a "VA surge" since May, and has been pushing the plan with the Twitter hashtag #vasurge. He wants to see recently discharged corpsmen from each branch of service reactivated for 90 to 120 days to help clear up the backlog.
Private doctors, paid by the VA, could also help clear up the backlog, Williams says.
He said Obama still can implement the plan even if the bill passes. He pointed out that the children crossing the border from Central America are being taken to Department of Defense facilities for treatment, and said the same can be done to help veterans.
Williams is a 22-year veteran of the Marines and Navy himself, retiring from the Navy as a lieutenant commander before becoming a media personality. He has criticized Obama and House Republicans, saying members of both political parties have been too slow to act on the VA scandal.
Whistleblowers have reported multiple VA hospitals covering up sometimes months-long wait times for veterans who were seeking medical care. Some veterans died while waiting.
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