Weekly Columns

As the son of an Air Force Master Sergeant and a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I take very seriously my responsibility to represent the interest of those who have served our country in uniform. When it comes to our nation’s veterans, their commitment to country is without question, and our country’s commitment to them should be the same. 

In recent weeks, we learned of widespread problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system including manipulation of data to hide detrimentally long wait times that the VA Inspector General described a ‘systemic.’ 

The Senate sent a strong message to prove veterans care is our top priority with the passage of The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.This bipartisan legislation would provide veterans with a greater choice of care and also put into place a system of accountability within the agency in response to the ongoing investigations into misconduct by VA employees. 

We need to restore faith in the VA health system and that begins with accountability. The Senate-passed legislation brings accountability to VA operations and creates disciplinary procedures for bad actors. We cannot accept employees who abuse their power and put our veterans in danger. That’s why a key component of this bill gives the VA Secretary the authority to fire or demote senior VA employees for poor performance. Providing a mechanism to remove or demote managers who fail our veterans will allow us to better serve the men and women who sacrificed for us. 

I am committed to ensuring that VA uses every available option it has to deliver on its mission for all veterans who have earned this care. And if it can’t, this bill gives our veterans the ability to seek that care elsewhere. 

The Senate-passed bill would establish a two-year program that allows veterans who have been unable to obtain care from the VA to seek it from private providers. The option also would be provided to those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, including a community-based outpatient clinic. The government would be obligated to reimburse the non-VA health provider for the services provided to the veteran. 

Our veterans too often face hurdles to receiving the care and the attention they need. It is the responsibility of Congress to determine what can be done to resolve these problems. That begins with rigorous oversight. Our veterans are relying on us to accomplish this basic role and I am willing to work with my colleagues in both chambers to achieve this. That’s why I joined my Republican colleagues on the Senate VA Committee in a letter last month calling on the chairman to hold oversight hearings to shine the light on issues impacting the care of our veterans. 

The Senate-passed bill is a good first step to ensuring that our veterans are getting the high quality services they earned but we must continue our commitment with Congressional oversight and a system of accountability. The status quo is unacceptable. Our veterans deserve the highest-quality health care services delivered in a reliable and timely manner. VA is failing to deliver on that promise. It is incumbent on us to fix it.