Rep. Mike Coffman has got nothing if not outstanding military cred he reminds the public of constantly. But last Friday, on the radio, the District 6 congressman speculated what it would be like if the Department of Veterans Affairs ran ISIS, triggering peeved Democrats to demand an apology.
The firestorm was sparked when the congressman appeared as a guest on 850 KOA’s Colorado Morning News to chat with hosts Steffan Tubbs and April Zesbaugh about Congress’ most recent short-term funding appropriation to the new Veterans Affairs hospital under construction in Coffman’s district.
The vote means that the cranes will keep moving and concrete will keep pouring at the Aurora site — at least until October. So Coffman celebrated that. But his lighthearted tone also carried over into his criticism of VA leadership:
It’s too bad we can’t take VA leadership and export it and give it to some of our adversaries around the planet. Let them suffer under the VA’s leadership. Can you imagine if the VA was in charge of ISIS? They’d probably say, “Well, you know it wasn’t quite 2,000 that we beheaded – it was really 24…is the accurate number. We’re sorry that, in fact, they were all our own terrorists that were beheaded because they got misclassified in the system as Christians. I mean, that would be the VA [chuckles]…that would be the VA in charge of ISIS.
Listen to full audio here:
“[Rep. Coffman’s] comments do not belong in our public discourse,” VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement to the Denver Post, “Veterans and VA employees find them highly offensive. (VA) Secretary (Robert) McDonald has spoken to Representative Coffman.”
Tyler Sandberg, Coffman’s spokesman, released a statement saying, “This is a controversy only with liberals and the Washington outrage machine. His sarcastic point was obvious — the VA is an organizational disaster.”
Coffman has been calling the VA an organizational disaster for some time now.
“The half-built Aurora VA hospital stands as a testament to the failure of Washington, DC politics,” Coffman wrote in a May press release, “VA leadership ignored the problems for years and did nothing to stop the out-of-control construction costs for the replacement hospital.”
Veterans’ facing delays and receiving inadequate care have been hot button issues nationwide, but especially in Colorado’s District 6, which is home to more than 45,000 veterans. So when construction of a new VA hospital in Aurora began in December 2011, there was reason to be cautiously hopeful. But that was quashed by overrun costs and contract disputes that nearly doomed the project.
In March, the public learned that the hospital would cost more than five times what was originally expected — coming in at $1.73 billion. “It is going to be a heavy lift to get this through Congress,” Coffman told the Denver Post, when the price tag came out. So for the congressman who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Veterans Affairs Committee and is a veteran himself, the sluggish and bloated construction project had turned from a blessing to a curse.
Coffman, who recently declined to run against Senator Michael Bennet and is facing a heated race to keep his seat in his district, is serious about all things military and veteran related, so anything that comes off remotely glib is sure to make ears perk – especially when it evokes ISIS.
“I don’t know what they’re putting in your orange juice back there!” said host Steffan Tubbs in response to Coffman’s joke.
Video still from August congressional debate, via Romanoff for Congress YouTube channel.