Trump promises to fix a VA in 'very sad shape'

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the American Legion National Convention, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati. | American Legion photo

Donald Trump became the second presidential nominee in two days to quote Ronald Reagan, promising “peace through strength” if he were to win the presidency.

The Republican presidential nominee addressed a crowd of thousands of veterans at the American Legion National Convention here on Thursday, speaking a day after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Also read: Clinton invokes role advising Bin Laden raid in speech to veterans

He told the crowd he planned to negotiate a system for the Veterans Affairs Department that would allow veterans to receive health care in a VA facility or at a private doctor of their choice.

Trump also reiterated his plan to aggressively promote “Americanism,” saying he would make sure American students recited the pledge of allegiance.

Clinton invoked Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” in her Wednesday address, promising to defend American exceptionalism. Trump continued the theme, saying he would enlist the American Legion’s help in promoting American values.

“We will stop apologizing for America and we will start celebrating America,” he said. “We will be united by our common culture, values and principles, becoming one American nation. One country under one constitution, saluting one American flag.”

Trump’s speech, which at 15 minutes was about half as long as Clinton’s, limited discussion of veterans’ policy to his plan to reform the VA.

While VA Secretary Robert McDonald told the American Legion on Wednesday that the department hoped to turn a corner in organizational reform this year, Trump said it was in “very sad shape,” adding that he had spoken with a number of veterans who had received unsatisfactory care.

Trump said he plans to carry out his VA overhaul by appointing a new secretary and firing anyone who failed to meet standards.

“I’m going to use every lawful authority to remove anyone who fails our veterans and breaches the public trust,” he said.

Trump also said he would make sure female veterans got the best possible access to medical care.

“We’re going to get you fantastic service. It’s going to happen, believe me,” he said. “Never again will we allow any veteran to suffer or die waiting for care.”

The Republican candidate, who on the previous day delivered a speech in Mexico promising to crack down on illegal immigration, drew applause when he reiterated promises to defend American borders.

In what appeared to be a pivot from 2015 comments in which he made disparaging many Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and criminals, Trump praised Mexican Americans for their service in the U.S. military.

“I just came back from a wonderful meeting with the president of Mexico where I expressed my deep respect for the people of his country and for the tremendous contribution of Mexican Americans in our country,” he said. “Many are in our armed services. You know how good they are. I want to thank him for his gracious hospitality and express my belief that we can work together and accomplish great things for both our countries.”

Trump also received applause when he promised to stop Syrian refugees, many of whom he has characterized as terrorists and extremists, from entering the United States, citing plans to build a safe zone overseas to house them.

“Our country has enough problems,” he said.

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