Friday, September 23, 2016
Billy Long: Veterans must get the best treatment possible
Last spring, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a report showing several wrongdoings by the VA hospital in San Diego. This particular VA hospital not only instructed their staff to falsify wait times, but it also cancelled one veteran’s mental health appointments, who later attempted suicide.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, the VA medical center also lied about their wait times. Later, while talking with federal investigators, they lied again about lying. In Pennsylvania, the VA failed to fire a nurse, who admitted to being drunk on call. A VA employee in Louisiana was charged with killing a veteran, but no one was fired. At a San Juan VA hospital, a VA employee continues to remain on the payroll even after participating in an armed robbery.
Those are just a few stories of the VA failing to act on employee misconduct, and that’s why earlier this month I voted in favor of H.R.5620, “VA Accountability First and Appeal Modernization Act of 2016.”
This piece of legislation does a number of things to ensure that veterans are being taken care of and the VA is being held accountable. The bill shortens the time it takes to fire employees from over a year to no more than 77 days, removes the Merit Systems Protection Board, offers protection for whistleblowers, gives the VA secretary the authority to take back bonuses and relocation money from employees who have misbehaved and the authority to reduce executive’s pensions who have been convicted of felonies. Finally, it reforms the appeals process for disability benefits.
Since the VA scandal broke in 2014, I have made it one of my top priorities in Congress to make sure that veterans are getting the best treatment possible, while also making sure that VA employees face the consequences for not doing their jobs.
In 2014, I voted in favor of H.R.4031, “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act,” which would have allowed the VA secretary to remove or demote any senior executive. In the same year, I also voted in favor of H.R.3230, “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014,” which allows action to be taken on the VA employees responsible for abuses of power. H.R.3230 was signed into law in August of 2014. And then in 2015, I voted in favor of H.R.1994, “VA Accountability Act of 2015,” which did a number of things to help make sure that veterans were getting quality care.
If a bill is proposed for the purpose of holding VA officials accountable and making veteran’s lives easier, I will vote in favor of it. I have received too many letters, phone calls and talked with too many veterans and their families to not realize the seriousness of the situation at hand.