Jon Stewart pressed former defense secretary Robert Gates on a number of issues on Wednesday night. But things got particularly heated when the two got to the topic of the benefits backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“You have faced down pretty fearsome adversaries –- Iraq War reconstruction, the Taliban resurgence, but you talk about [in your book] a battle you fight with a really terrifying opponent, the VA bureaucracy,” Stewart said. “Why is it so difficult to take care of our men and women when they come home in the manner that they deserve?”
Stewart has proved himself a dedicated advocate for wounded veterans and is regularly vocal about the many challenges they face coming home.
Back in March, the host of the “Daily Show” reported that the number of veterans waiting over a year for their benefits to come through had grown 2,000 percent during Obama’s tenure. He went on to call the statistic “f*cking criminal."
Stewart didn’t go so far as to drop any F-bombs on his show on Wednesday, likely because he and Gates appeared to be on the same page.
Gates said to Stewart that the holdup had nothing to do with a lack of funding or any inability on the part of VA employees. He even credited Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, as being "effective."
As of November, the department had cut the backlog by about 211,000 claims over the course of eight months, Reuters reported. Still, there are 400,835 to be dealt with.
The former defense secretary, who is on a press tour promoting his memoir “Duty,” placed the blame on the bureaucracy at the VA and Congress’ micromanagement of the department.
He said making the VA run more smoothly would require a much more aggressive approach.
“You’ve got to hold people accountable,” Gates said, “and show that there are consequences for not getting the job done.”