Reforming the VA one bill at a time
Posted on July 3, 2018 15:20 pm CDT
By Congressman Billy Long,
In 2014, news broke that patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, died due to long wait times for care. Employees at the hospital kept two sets of records detailing patients’ wait times to cover up “gross mismanagement,” as one Arizona newspaper put it. Unfortunately, the VA hospital in Phoenix was not the only place this was happening. Soon after this story broke, stories all across the country started coming out. From Wyoming to Florida, it was evident this was a widespread problem.
Congress quickly got to work to find ways to address this problem by holding multiple hearings and passing several pieces of legislation that increased oversight and whistleblower protections. Although the VA system is improving, there is still more work that needs to be done. Just recently, USA Today reported that VA nursing homes in the U.S., which serve 46,000 veterans a year, have more patients with bedsores and pain than private facilities. Nearly half of the VA nursing homes received the VA’s lowest quality rating, one out of five stars, because of poor care.
This story is just another example of why more work needs to be done. This May, both the House of Representatives and Senate passed S. 2372, the VA MISSION Act, which President Trump signed into law. This legislation builds on our efforts to expand access to health care, streamline programs and make the Choice Program permanent, which allows veterans who are not able to get an appointment within 30 days at a VA health care facility to schedule appointments with non-VA health facilities.
Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, as of December the VA had fired nearly 1,500 employees and suspended more than 400 who failed to adequately take care of our veterans. There have also been multiple pieces of legislation signed into law that address this issue, such as the Veterans Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act and the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. Both bills work to increase whistleblower protections, streamline the disability claims process and allow the VA Secretary to quickly remove federal employees who put our veterans in danger or fail to take care of them.
Members of Congress might not agree on a lot, but taking care of our veterans is something both sides of the aisle can come together on. As we move forward in the 115th Congress, I will continue to work on legislation that improves veteran care and holds the VA accountable. I’m tired of reading headlines about veterans being mistreated or dying because of wait times, and it’s shameful that veterans have to experience this.