Columns

Fixing the VA

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Washington, September 16, 2016 | Beth Breeding (202-225-5431) | comments
America’s veterans put their lives on the line for us. Throughout the history of our nation, brave men and women have faced great danger to protect the freedoms that set us apart from the world. Our veterans served us, and when they return home, it’s our turn to serve them.

However, a lack of accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to take a toll on the service provided to our veterans. These American heroes deserve nothing short of excellence, but time and time again we’ve heard stories of them being turned away from care, waiting too long to see a doctor, or being a victim to negligence. VA employees have come to work under the influence, misused government purchase cards, and committed armed robbery, but federal civil service protections have made it nearly impossible to remove them from their jobs. A study by the Government Accountability Office even found that on average, it takes six months to a year, and sometimes longer, to remove some employees. It is truly confounding.

That’s why I am working in the House of Representatives to fix the VA, starting with making accountability the norm – not the exception – within the agency. Just a few days ago, the House passed H.R. 5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act. This bipartisan legislation, which I cosponsored, provides the Secretary of the VA with increased flexibility to remove employees for misconduct or poor performance. It also includes protections against retaliation for whistleblower employees who draw attention to problems within the agency.

Another challenge faced by veterans is the backlog in the appeals process for disability benefits. In January 2015, 375,000 appeals were awaiting action. As of June 1 of this year, there were nearly 457,000 appeals pending in the VA system. Some veterans have already waited years for their appeals to be heard, and without reform the backlog will continue to grow. H.R. 5620 streamlines the VA’s appeals process for disability benefits in order to provide faster decisions. It also allows each veteran to choose how their claim is best handled.

Veterans’ health care is not a game. The VA should not be strapped by red tape that holds incompetent or negligent workers above our veterans. Within the VA system are thousands of employees dedicated to ensuring the best possible care and service for our veterans, including those at the Salem VA Medical Center and at community-based outpatient clinics throughout the Sixth District. It is unfortunate that a few bad actors would overshadow their good work.

I am committed to ensuring our veterans are treated with the respect they are due today and every day. This legislation will help expand the ability of the VA to create a team of folks who want to serve those who have served us so well. Let’s get this legislation signed into law and fix the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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