Interviews

Montel Williams: Bill to fix VA is 'not enough'

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This is a rush transcript from "Your World," July 30, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, we're getting there, but just because D.C. is closing in does not mean that Montel is giving in, because when it comes to protecting our vets, Montel vows he is not letting up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONTEL WILLIAMS, FOUNDER, MONTEL MEDIA GROUP: This is business as usual in this town.

How ignorant can we be to put together a bill and come up with an amount of money to pay for it, and we don't even know what we're paying for?

Specifically in the bill, we just happen to notice that they specifically wrote in the bill that they're going to let them keep the bonuses.

If there are VA people sitting in this room, I don't give a damn what you think about what I'm saying. If you participating in signing a paper that allowed you to get a bonus based on fraudulent lie material, you should go to jail, period.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAVUTO: And now he's here.

Welcome, everybody. I'm Neil Cavuto.

And with $17 billion about to be committed to supposedly helping our vets, why is Montel Williams still not convinced it will do anything close? The retired Navy lieutenant commander, talk show host, bestselling author, you name it, back with us.

Montel, one would think you would be happy that at least we're very, very close to a yea vote in the House, then in the Senate, then a signature by the president and this thing is done.

You're not. Why?

WILLIAMS: You know, Neil, if this is how it's going to be, I would be over-the-top happy.

But you know as well as I do that it's going to -- whether they -- if they pass the bill tomorrow, the president gets it next week, it will be 60 days before we start anything reasonable, including the rules that have to be put in place, and then about another 120 days before they implement any of this.

Everybody is -- I have been watching this debate on the floor, the discussion on the floor. These guys are already patting themselves on the back and getting ready to go home to the district and say, we have won. But they haven't.

Let's talk about this bill. I have been saying this for seven weeks, Neil. Until we know what the baseline is, how can you come up with a number to pay for what's going on? That's number one. Number two, this bill only hits the VA for 10 percent of the bonuses that they're getting. They're going to continue to get about $350 million in bonuses for some system that no one knows why they're getting bonuses.

And, yes, this bill does allow for the new VA secretary to fire and terminate people in the upper management ranks. But let's see how quickly this gets out of the rules committee in the next 60 days, when labor is asked to respond to the way they're going to administer this.

So, there's a lot of flash. And I'm going to tell you, yes, we should say, you know, since we have a Congress and a Senate and a president that's done nothing for the last two years, year, maybe they have done something in the last four months as the story broke. Now they're coming to the table and saying we're going to put veterans first.

But now really put us first. And, if you did so, there's a lot of things we can do.

CAVUTO: All right, I'm going to give you the pat response. A flawed bill is better than no bill. A flawed initiative to try to get this nuttery contained is better than no measure.

What do you say?

WILLIAMS: Well, I say 22 soldiers a day take their lives, 22 a day. I spell it out for you; 60 plus 120, that's 180 days. Let's do the math. That's well over 400 soldiers that are going to take their lives between now and the time that any part of this is implemented. That's why I say a flawed bill is not good enough.

CAVUTO: Understood. So, but now let -- get -- any delay in even implementing this, with all the delays you speak of, is better than not doing it, right, or no?

WILLIAMS: No, it's not, because, Neil, there are mothers, there are brothers, there are fathers, sisters, there are people who are crying every day because another soldier took their life or another one wasn't treated.

There are families that are being disrupted according this country. So, we can't keep putting this off. What I have been calling for -- and you know -- when I ask people to follow me at Montel_Williams, is click on #VAsurge. The president can still do this even with the bill in place.

We could find out in the next 90 days what the true baseline is. Let's understand what it is I'm talking about. I was at an event today that was sponsored by IAVA and also Defense One. They were talking about the fact our soldiers and sailors and airmen, Coast Guard are going to be need.

They were talking about the fact that right now, though we may say to our constituents when we do speech -- and do these speeches that our veterans are going to be able to run out and run to a local hospital? That's not going to be implemented for another 180 days.

And so we have got to right now give the president an opportunity to just bring on this staff. Do you know that we have 20,000 -- I'm sorry -- 200,000 veterans every six months -- I think it's 20,000 veterans a month are coming off active duty?

And when those -- no, it's 200,000 coming off active duty right now. When they come off active duty, if we just took the Corpsmen, the medical personnel, those people that are doctors and gave them an additional 90 days to 110 days, opened up the DOD hospitals today to our veterans and say, go right over there, let's find out what the baseline is, because you remember this, Neil.

Right now, there are busses running from Texas and all along the border taking children who came into this country illegally -- and I'm as compassionate as the next person -- to DOD facilities to get them treated. And this was with a stroke of the pen from the president. The president could do the same thing right now and put some veterans on that same bus. Let them be seen at a DOD facility, an HHS facility.

Let them be seen so that at least we can find out what the baseline is. And once we know what that is, then I will buy this $17 billion, but it's not enough.

CAVUTO: Have you heard back from anyone at the White House?

WILLIAMS: Oh, are you kidding me?

Look, I -- if they never call me, it doesn't matter. The messenger is the problem. I want the message heard. There's a lot of people in this town who would rather have this messenger shut up, but guess what? It's not going to happen, because, over the next 120 days, I'm going to keep explaining to the American people how they're being hoodwinked right now by this group of people standing down there patting themselves on the back, saying we have won.

You have won nothing. You have won nothing.

CAVUTO: Let's look at what the new VA secretary can do when he comes in, because, presumably, they're dotting the I's and crossing the T's, as you know, Montel. He will be able to fire people on the spot.

There is a proviso in there that, by federal union rules, they have 21 days to appeal, what have you, and make their case.

What do you think of that?

WILLIAMS: But, see, again, what -- what most of the American public doesn't understand is that when a bill is voted on and the president signs it, it does not go into action that day. This is going to go to a committee, and they're going to put together rules. There are going to be public opinions, just as we heard.

CAVUTO: No, no, I understand that.

The talk is that the secretary is going to do just that, though.

WILLIAMS: What's that?

CAVUTO: He is going to go ahead and start firing people immediately, start shutting down nonperforming parts of the VA immediately, whether technically the rules have been written or not, so he would in other words risk great umbrage doing so, but that he will do so because he thinks the public will is behind him.

What do you think of that?

WILLIAMS: Neil, do you see this? You finally, my friend, were able to get a smile on my face.

If Secretary McDonald walks in and starts doing what we say in the military -- and, please, I'm not trying to be offensive, but it's a military term -- starts kicking A and taking names, the way he should, oh, I'm going to tell you, I think you will rally the entire military behind them and all the veterans in support of what he's doing.

OK, I will do this. I didn't think that they would vote by Friday. It's going to get done. Let's get the president to sign it by next Friday.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: By the way, the impetus for getting this done, Montel, was a vacation.

WILLIAMS: Correct.

CAVUTO: They didn't want this still in their inbox going into a five- week summer recess.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: And they also want to be able to go home -- they also want to go home and campaign and claim...

CAVUTO: Absolutely.

WILLIAMS: ... we fixed the VA before...

CAVUTO: Right.

WILLIAMS: ... the election. We know that. That's what they're trying to do. And I'm going to say that the fix is just like -- watch this. I was away last week on a vacation. I flew back just to come in and speak today and to be on your show. I cut my foot last Monday. And it's a small cut, not a big one.

What did I do? I put a Band-Aid on it, right? And guess what? I'm now back in the United States seven days later. That Band-Aid has made my cut fester. It's infected. I'm going to have to go see a doctor tomorrow, and get them to clean it out. OK?

That's the same thing that this Band-Aid, hopefully -- let's say I hope that doesn't happen in this case, because right now we have a Band-Aid and it's still festering until we fire some, until we restructure, and until we understand what the debt is we owe.

CAVUTO: You know, I had a lot of retired generals, colonels and the like saying, you know, maybe the VA itself isn't up to the task. There are certainly very good VA hospitals. It's not to say they're all awful.

But the agency, as we know it, and what's morphed into and become isn't workable now, and so it's got to be a private alternative, or it's got to be vouchers for soldiers so that they can go anywhere they want for the care they need any time they want. What they're saying is, the VA isn't worth it. What do you say?

WILLIAMS: It's an antiquated system. Stop trying to fix it.

CAVUTO: Right.

WILLIAMS: There's no -- I don't believe that. I don't believe that at all. And I'm going to tell you why, because, like, today -- today, when I was speaking at -- a soldier introduced me, Aaron Mankin.

And Aaron, when he introduced me, is a soldier who was burned and has over -- been through 70-plus surgeries. And he's got more coming. OK? Aaron will tell you that the people at the VA rebuilt him. And there are so many other stories like that.

So there are good things happening there. And I have said this since day one. I'm not -- the good is not the problem. We have got to fix the fact that we have wait lists. We have to fix those bad things, and not wait for six months, a year to do it.

And, unfortunately, all of the people who are patting themselves back on their back right now down the Hill will go to a barbecue this weekend and a fund-raiser, and they say, we fixed the VA problem.

But they didn't. And 30 days from now, Neil, if I don't see that kicking A and taking name, you and I should talk, because I'm going to tell you, then the same thing is going to continue to happen. The Band-Aid will fester the wound, and it's never going to get better.

CAVUTO: How it has it affected the mood of the veterans you speak to, the soldiers speak to? Every time you come, I ask about that, because you say they -- they're pretty surprised and sometimes obviously chagrined, to put it mildly. How's are they now?

WILLIAMS: You know, I think, today, I was at a session or a conference. There must have been 400 people there. And in that room, there were at least 120 veterans,and all of them, all of them just hoping and praying that this government does something immediately for them.

They're -- they're on pins and needles. Everybody's wondering, what's going to happen? You know, we -- I'm not -- again, it's not a point of a finger. But, you know, I didn't see Speaker Boehner in the last couple weeks running around to different VA hospitals just shaking hands and talking, didn't see the president.

I have seen the first lady out. But, you know, there's not a lot of people running around trying to communicate to them directly. But we send these messages veiled through C-SPAN during the middle of a speech. While these guys are home on this vacation, why don't they walk into those VA hospitals across the country and say to those veterans, we voted on Friday to protect you, and I'm going to guarantee that we get it done?

Because, remember, all of us stand up and put our hands up and we take an oath of office swearing allegiance to the country and the Constitution. Why doesn't Congress swear some allegiance to these guys right now? And this vote is a first step, but, again, it's a Band-Aid. And wounds can fester until you cut out the real problem.

CAVUTO: That was very well put, my friend. Always good seeing you. Thanks for all you're doing, Montel Williams.

WILLIAMS: So good to see you, Neil.

CAVUTO: Same here.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, sir.

CAVUTO: Montel in Washington.

Can you imagine being in that group listening to him? Uh-oh. Uh-oh.

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