AP FACT CHECK: Trump falsely blames Biden for vet deaths

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump falsely blames Democratic rival Joe Biden for the deaths of 308,000 veterans who he said couldn't get health care because of the Obama administration's policies.

Trump and his campaign cite a 2015 report from the Veterans Affairs Department's inspector general. But that's not what the report said.

A look at the claim from their debate Tuesday:

TRUMP, comparing his record on fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs to when Biden was vice president: “A fixing of the VA, which was a mess under him, 308,000 people died because they didn’t have proper health care. He was a mess."

THE FACTS: Trump's claim of 308,000 deaths of veterans while they were seeking VA care under Biden’s watch is unsupported.

The IG report examined claims of delayed care after the 2014 VA scandal in which several VA hospitals were found to have covered up extended waiting times for veterans seeking appointments.

The audit found that over 300,000 veterans with pending applications for VA health care were likely deceased, but it made clear that “data limitations” prevented investigators from determining how many now-deceased veterans applied for health care benefits or when. The applications go back nearly two decades, and officials said numerous applicants actually died before the start of the Obama administration in 2009 — not when Biden was vice president.

For instance, a veteran who died in 1988 was listed as awaiting approval to enroll in VA health care until January 2015. One non-veteran who received emergency care at a VA hospital in 2000 was listed as awaiting approval to enroll in VA health care for over a decade, even though the patient was never eligible to enroll. And yet another veteran who appeared to have died waiting for care was shown applying for VA enrollment in 2009, and failing to receive any help. However, the patient died in 1993.

More broadly, Trump is ignoring VA accomplishments that began during the Obama administration.

Trump frequently boasts how his administration improved waiting times at the VA, began offering same-day VA mental health services and was the first to pass VA Choice, a program that allows some veterans to get private care outside the VA system at government expense.

But Obama was the first to sign the VA Choice legislation into law, while same-day mental health services at VA were implemented during the Obama administration. A 2019 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association later found improved waiting times for an appointment at the VA from 2014 to 2017, a period largely covering the Obama administration.

While the VA has shown good ratings during the Trump administration, Trump’s assertion that he’s the one who singularly fixed the VA is misguided.

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Associated Press Writer Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

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