Charlotte, N.C. — Making his second North Carolina appearance in a little over 12 hours, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Tuesday that, if elected, he would overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure quality health care is provided quickly and veterans have more access to civil jobs.
Speaking at the VFW National Convention in Charlotte, Trump also blasted political rival Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration's foreign policy, blaming them for the rise in terrorism in the Middle East. He noted no one during the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia mentioned the Islamic State group.
"They don't want to talk about it because, in a very true way, they really established ISIS because of weakness," Trump said. "The people in this room know better than anybody else, or any other audience, what I mean by weakness."
Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, told the audience that Trump "will name our enemies by name, and he will defeat them."
Calling the ongoing problem with veterans having to wait for health care at VA facilities nationwide "totally inexcusable" and a "permanent stain on government," Trump laid out a 10-point plan to overhaul the agency to provide faster access, including establishing a hotline to the White House that he himself would sometimes pick up to handle complaints by veterans.
"Our debt to you is eternal, yet our politicians have totally failed you," he said.
He promised to maintain a public health care system for veterans because he called it a "sacred commitment," but he said he would change the system to allow veterans "waiting in line" to go to private doctors or hospitals.
According to figures released two weeks ago by the VA, 20 percent of appoints at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center and 15 percent of appointments at the Durham VA Medical Center have to be scheduled more than a month in advance. The national average is less than 10 percent.
Also, veterans wait an average of 31 days to see specialists at the Fayetteville VA, which is the longest specialty care average wait time in the country and is three times the national average.
Trump also touched on other common campaign themes, including eliminating the "rigged system" of Washington politics and special interests, cutting taxes, negotiating more favorable trade deals, reforming the immigration system and blocking refugees from war-torn Syria "and other dangerous countries" from entering the U.S.
"We don't (want to) bring into the United States the same terrorism that our American soldiers are fighting overseas," he said, noting that Clinton wants a five-fold increase in the number of refugees. "We have to be the smart country again, or we are in big, big trouble."
Clinton spoke to the VFW on Monday before heading to Philadelphia, where she received the Democratic nomination for president on Tuesday evening.
But the reception for Trump at the convention was more rousing, and it was clear the audience favors him.
"I was somewhat independent because I was a registered Democrat. However, after hearing the two presentations, I've switched totally to Trump," veteran Bill Hudson said.
"He was much more warmly received than Hillary was yesterday, and her speech was very reserved and stoic and not very exciting, really," said Ruth Ann Dyer, the wife North Carolina veteran Jim Dyer.
"I think they both had something to say, and that's what makes this country great," Jim Dyer said.