By REP. DIANE BLACK
The numbers are staggering. 344,000 claims are backlogged at the Veterans Administration, with the average veteran waiting 160 days just to gain access to health benefits. As of this writing, seven hospitals were found to have hidden lists of veterans waiting for treatment and in one Arizona facility alone, as many as 40 veterans reportedly died because they couldn’t get the care our government promised them.
Sadly, these problems at the VA have been building under the surface for some time. According to The Washington Times, “Veterans Affairs officials warned the Obama-Biden transition team in the weeks after the 2008 presidential election that the department shouldn’t trust the wait times that its facilities were reporting.” This is a glaring contradiction to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s earlier claim that the President first learned of troubles at the VA through the media.
The White House says President Obama is “madder than hell” about the reports of negligence at the VA; a line he has repeated throughout his administration, from the IRS scandal, to the botched “Operation Fast and Furious” scheme, to the failed launch of Healthcare.gov. In fact, when the Obamacare website failed, President Obama reacted immediately by pouring resources into it and recruiting top technology experts from around the country to help fix the problem. Where is that same urgency with the VA?
As the wife, mother, and daughter of U.S. servicemen I’m mad too—we all should be—but it will take more than anger to address the systemic lack of accountability at the VA, it requires action.
Where President Obama has failed to act, Congress has stood in the gap.
In July of last year, I personally wrote VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to call attention to his agency’s inefficiency. More recently, the House voted with my support to create a taskforce charged with addressing the unacceptable VA claims backlog—a bill that is still awaiting a vote in the Senate despite its overwhelming 404 – 1 passage in our chamber.
These are important first steps, but the latest instances of neglect at the VA show that more needs to be done.
To that end, the House of Representatives acted this week by passing the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, bipartisan legislation I cosponsored allowing the VA Secretary to fire underperforming agency executives without going through the maze of bureaucratic red tape typically required to terminate an administration appointee.
The Senate should follow the House’s lead and immediately take up this measure so that our veterans are protected.
Congress’s oversight into the VA is ongoing and we are prepared to take our efforts all the way up the chain of command based on where the facts lead. Our veterans have fulfilled their commitment to our country in ways that most of us can only imagine.
It is our job in Congress to ensure that Washington upholds its end of the bargain.