Saturday, August 01, 2015
Billy Long: Situation in VA hospitals has not improved
Last year, we learned of the unacceptable waiting list manipulation at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals around the country in an effort to achieve high marks and bonus pay. I, along with many Americans, found the actions to be egregious and Congress took action to implement historic VA reforms. Unfortunately the situation has not improved.
Despite the historic passage of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act - which holds senior agency officials responsible for the 2014 scandal to be fired, allocated $15 billion to the troubled agency to better handle patient load, process inquires and facilitate better access to VA facilities for veterans -, the VA has not made good on its mandated reforms. No more than three agency officials were formally removed over veterans’ prolonged wait times, there are 50 percent more veterans waiting more than 30 days for care and, even worse, an April 2015 VA report indicates 28 percent of the nearly 850,000 veterans awaiting an enrollment decision have already died. There have also been reports of more agency employee misconduct. Further, a recent Government Accountability Office study shows the length of time to remove a federal employee can be up to one year, even for the most blatant offenses.
Making the situation worse, the VA’s lack of response to Congressional inquiries has impeded Congress’ responsibility to oversee the agency. The agency has more than 100 outstanding requests for information from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
All of this is why I joined the House this week to pass the VA Accountability Act, which would strengthen provisions put in place with the 2014 reform bill to improve quality and access to care and demote or fire agency employees for poor performance. It would increase the sting of consequences for VA employees contributing to poor veterans services and would require a report to better understand labor organization activity within the agency. The bill would also protect whistleblowers within the agency. Overall, the House has acted to make sure that absolutely no veteran, who has sacrificed so much to defend our freedom, is neglected for someone else’s personal gain.
There are approximately 60,000 veterans residing in Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District, all of whom we owe a debt of gratitude to. Providing for veterans’ care is the least we can do for the great sacrifices they have made. Passing this bill was for them – to get the meaningful reform needed to hold the VA accountable to serve our veterans in the best way possible.