CHAMPAIGN — U.S Rep. Rodney Davis said Wednesday he wouldn't criticize President Obama for making the exchange with the Taliban that brought Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl back to the United States for five Taliban prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"As a dad I cannot criticize the president for wanting to bring an American home because if that was my son, regardless of what the circumstances were for my son going missing or becoming a POW or deserting, I would have wanted my son to come home to America to get the care that he needed and also to face the charges that he may face," the Taylorville Republican said Wednesday at a veterans job fair his office held at Parkland College. "Time will tell if what America gave up with those Guantanamo prisoners will have a negative impact. Time will tell if this is going to put more Americans in danger or possibly putting a bounty on the head of Americans to get terrorists out of jail."
Obama administration officials were scheduled to brief members of Congress Wednesday night on the circumstances of the deal that brought Bergdahl, who some military members claim was a deserter, back to the United States five years after he disappeared in Afghanistan.
Davis did not rule out the possibility that the exchange eventually could turn out badly for Obama.
"It's up to Congress to discuss what happened and also to hold the administration accountable for any adverse impacts in the future," said Davis.
Meanwhile, Davis said he met earlier Wednesday with members of his own veterans advisory board, who told him they were generally pleased with the VA Illiana Health Care System in Danville.
"I think we needed a drastic change in leadership at the top of the VA," Davis said about last week's resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki as head of the agency. "The new leadership needs to create somewhat of a surge on the battleground that has become a reality for our veterans here in America when it comes to getting the benefits and the health care they deserve."
Davis said he was told that waits for medical appointments at the Illiana VA facilities are not nearly as long as the average 151-day delays reported at other VA centers.
"The Illiana system is a system that is working well. The inspector general came to work with them during the investigation (of the Phoenix, Ariz., facility) and according to the two representatives we had here they passed with flying colors. Our veterans here are being served well by the Illiana system but what we need to do nationwide is to make sure that we give our veterans options. If they're having to wait 115 days to get service we ought to allow them to get service in the private sector."
Davis said there has been "a systemic failure in the entire VA system because the backlog of determinations."
But he said "it isn't anything new.
"This isn't just an Obama administration issue. This was happening in the Bush administration but the president and Shinseki came in saying they were going to fix it and unfortunately they didn't fix it and they exacerbated the problem by creating the appointment scheme in order to skew the real statistics about the wait time."
He said he didn't "want to see the VA system go away, but I want our veterans to have options and we're going to talk about ways to put forth those options."