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MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript

Interview

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Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Bob Filner of California. He`s a ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. I should also mention he`s currently running for mayor of the city of San Diego. Congressman Filner, thank you very much for being here to help us talk
about this.

FILNER: Thank you, Rachel. It`s an honor to be on the best show in television.

MADDOW: That`s very kind of you to say. Flattery will get you everywhere here.

You are a Democrat. You`re not one of these people who is ideologically committed to the idea that government gets everything wrong. Why do you think we`re getting this so wrong? When it comes to handling this basic thing for veterans, why is this so screwed up?

FILNER: By the way, I just want to go one step further about how bad it is. You know, people die before they get that final adjudication or they may commit suicide. I mean, it is so bad that these things occur.

And I think, you know, it`s a bureaucracy that has been in charge for decades that doesn`t want to do anything any differently. It`s veterans groups who sort of have -- they drank the Kool-Aid of the bureaucracy.

They say, well, let`s just play around the edges of it. And they`re afraid
to take on the system also.

And I think what`s really going on, Rachel, is that we want to talk about the glory of war. How patriotic it is, and we don`t want to focus on the cost of war, what happens when the young men and women come back.

We don`t want to pay too much attention to it because it undercuts what every government wants and that`s support for the wars it carries out. And I think Democrats particularly who are anti-war like myself, have to be very pro-veteran and say no matter what we thought about the war, we`ve got to make sure every young man and woman who gets back gets all of the care, the attention, the love, the dignity that a nation can give.

MADDOW: When I have been looking into the issue and monitoring really dramatic hearings in your home state of California about this, people talking ability not being able to get -- not even get an answer, let alone get approved for their disability claims. And California has some of the worst V.A. centers in terms of dealing with this, waits up to a year long.

When I`ve been looking into this, it seems to me that from the veterans group side, that they are all very angry about this, that they are all upset about this. Obviously, you have a difference with them about whether or not your proposed change is the way to fix the problem.

But I wonder if that disagreement is the end of a conversation or if that`s the beginning. It seems to me that their anger on this issue is a starting place given how much political power they`ve got in a country that really does respect what they have done particularly since 9/11.

FILNER: Right. You would think so. But there`s a disconnect between the grassroots veterans and the people in Washington who supposedly represent them. The people in Washington have drunk the Kool-Aid. They just want to tinker around the edges because they`re tied into an inefficient system. They figure as long as the system is so bad, veterans will come to them for help rather than say let`s really have a radical change.

You know, you mentioned the IRS. Twenty-years ago or so, the IRS was completely dysfunctional. You didn`t know where your return was, or when
you would get your refund. Now, when you file your 1040 on April 15th, and
if you have a refund coming, you get it back in three weeks guaranteed.

How did they change from one dysfunctional agency to a very modern and
efficient one? They said, look, we`re going to accept your claim, subject
to audit. And that`s what keeps us honest. We can do the same thing with
veterans claims.

When we have certified veterans officers all over the country, the American Legion, VFW, states, counties, the V.A., if they are helpful to the veteran in filling out the forms, we should accept it subject to audit, then they get their check, and get their life together, and move on right away.

MADDOW: Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego, running for mayor of San Diego -- sir, thank you for venting your spleen the way you did in this hearing. It put a spotlight on the issue that otherwise would not have been there.

FILNER: Thank you for taking it -- thank you for taking this up. You know, the American people have got to understand that we send the kids to war. You`ve got to take care of them when they come home.

MADDOW: Thank you, sir. And I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

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