Facing a continuing maelstrom over his remark that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is "not a war hero," billionaire businessman and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to shift the focus from McCain’s service record to his track record.
McCain may talk a lot about supporting American troops, Trump insisted on ABC’s This Week, but he doesn’t walk the walk.
"I'm very disappointed in John McCain, because the vets are horribly treated in this country. I'm fighting for the vets. I've done a lot for the vets," Trump said on July 19. "He's done nothing to help the vets. And I will tell you, they are living in hell."
He echoed the point that same day in an editorial published in USA Today. Trump wrote: "Thanks to McCain and his Senate colleague Bernie Sanders, their legislation to cover up the VA scandal, in which 1,000+ veterans died waiting for medical care, made sure no one has been punished, charged, jailed, fined or held responsible. McCain has abandoned our veterans. I will fight for them."
Is Trump correct that that McCain -- a Vietnam prisoner of war and current chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee -- hasn’t helped his fellow veterans?
The Trump campaign never got back to us, but McCain’s office did, and, not surprisingly, they begged to differ. They provided a wide variety of examples of things McCain has done for veterans during his nearly three-decade congressional career. Here are a few of the most recent ones:
• Military families. In June 2015, McCain co-sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 to cover the travel costs for the family of troops killed in overseas missions. The amendment was adopted by the Senate by unanimous consent.
• Veterans health. McCain introduced the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in early 2015 to increase access to mental health support for veterans. It has become law.
• Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2014, McCain -- along with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic presidential candidate -- led efforts to address the scandal over secret waiting lists at VA hospitals by pushing the The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act all the way to enactment. In 2015, McCain co-sponsored a bill to increase accountability at the department.
• Non-legislative support. McCain’s office employs five caseworkers solely dedicated to helping veterans who are running into problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A spokeswoman told us McCain’s office has handled more than 2,000 veterans-related cases in 2015 alone.
We also reached out to veterans groups. Even those who have taken issue with McCain’s record on veterans disagreed with Trump that McCain has "done nothing" for vets.
Decorated veteran Brandon Friedman, a former Obama administration official and vice chairman of the progressive VoteVets PAC, detailed McCain’s history of failing veterans in 2008, but rejected Trump’s characterization.
" ‘Nothing’ is a strong word," Friedman told us. "He hasn't been great on veterans issues. That being said … the senator doesn't deserve that."
Groups that gave McCain failing grades during his 2008 White House bid agreed with Friedman. Though McCain voted with Disabled Veterans of America about 20 percent of the time in 2008, the group praised McCain in 2014 "for putting partisan politics aside to quickly pass bipartisan legislation in response to the current VA health care crisis."
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also gave McCain a grade of D in 2010, but pointed to a specific example of McCain’s recent support.
"I have had the honor of working with Sen. McCain on key veterans legislation, including the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act," CEO Paul Rieckhoff wrote in the New York Daily News.
Other groups also rushed to McCain’s defense.
"Donald Trump also revealed that he has no idea what he is talking about with regards to reforming and fixing the VA. If he did, he would have known that Senator McCain has been a leader in fighting to give veterans more health care choices and to hold the VA accountable for its failures," Concerned Veterans for America wrote in statement
Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, said in a press release that McCain has a been a "champion" for troops and veterans, arguing that no one has visited American troops more than McCain.
"We can disagree with some of Sen. McCain’s positions at times, but we can never say he has abandoned the troops," Ryan wrote on July 20. "We should acknowledge the facts: John McCain cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and through his actions, he has made a real difference for our troops. Mr. Trump owes Sen. McCain and all veterans an apology."
Trump said that McCain "has done nothing to help the vets."
While many veterans’ groups have had their differences with McCain over the years over specific legislation and his general approach to veterans’ issues, that’s not the same as saying he’s done "nothing" for veterans. In fact, just within the past two years, McCain has sponsored and helped enact several major provisions to help veterans. He also devotes a significant portion of his office staff to offer veterans on casework.
We rate Trump’s claim False.