Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie struck back at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Wednesday, calling her accusations that the Trump administration wants to privatize the VA "nonsense."
"I won't be rude to the congresswoman and say that it is nonsense, but I will say it's nonsense," Wilkie said on "Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream."
"If we are privatizing VA, we are going about it in a very strange way," Wilkie said. "I presented to the Congress a $220 billion budget, the largest budget in the history of the department. We are undergoing basic reforms to make the VA a modern, 21st-century health care administration. But what we are doing is opening the aperture on choice, so that our veterans remain at the center their own health care, and if VA can provide what they need, we will give them the opportunity to go out into the private sector."
Ocasio-Cortez claimed during a New York town hall event last week that the VA “isn’t broken” despite the scandals that have plagued the agency over the last decade and claimed the Trump administration aimed to "privatize" health care for veterans.
"That is the opening approach we have seen when it comes to privatization, it's the idea that this thing that isn’t broken, this thing that provides some of the highest quality care to our veterans somehow needs to be fixed, optimized, tinkered with until we don’t even recognize it anymore," Ocasio-Cortez said, in comments first reported by the Washington Examiner.
"They are trying to fix the VA for pharmaceutical companies, they are trying to fix the VA for insurance corporations, and, ultimately they are trying to fix the VA for a for-profit health care industry that does not put people or veterans first," Ocasio-Cortez said.
“And so we have a responsibility to protect it.”
The congresswoman's comments were aimed at Trump administration efforts to expand choice and private health care options in the VA health care system.
President Trump reacted to the congresswoman's comments by taking credit for turning around the VA.
"Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct, the VA is not broken, it is doing great. But that is only because of the Trump Administration. We got Veterans Choice & Accountability passed," Trump tweeted.
Wilkie defended the Trump administration and supported the president's response on Twitter.
"The other part of our comments or they were answered by the president, who said that under this administration, the VA isn't broken. The scandals that she referred to happened in another administration," Wilkie said.
"I can say, as someone who's been accused of being a historian, no president in the post-World War II era has put the veterans at the center of his campaign and administration until President Trump did it. We are seeing this in the way the VA's moving forward."
Fox News' Adam Shaw contributed to this report.