One year ago today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (FL-01) said that he had evidence that dozens our veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA. Despite the outrage, despite the bipartisan and bicameral Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reform bill, and despite the VA having months to implement changes, the Associated Press reports that just as many of our veterans face long wait times as last year.
The AP goes on to say that nearly 894,000 appointments between August 1st and February 28th failed to be completed within the required 30 day window.
This is flatly unacceptable.
After passing the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, the VA failed to properly reform or truly hold its employees accountable, despite continued pressure from Congress and veterans groups.
For example, one provision in the bill allowed veterans to have paid access to private care if there was no VA facility within 40 miles of where they lived. Until just a few weeks ago, the Administration interpreted that part of the law in the most restrictive way possible to mean 40 miles as the crow flies instead of the miles a veteran must spend on the road.
Similarly, the law granted VA executives greater authority to remove employees who failed to adequately care for veterans or who manipulated wait time data. However, few employees at the center of the VA scandal have been fired. Meanwhile, whistleblowers continue to fear retaliation.
Veterans deserve a 21st century VA, which means increased choice and more accountability. Our work in the VA didn’t stop when the reform bill was signed into law. As Majority Leader McCarthy said at a Concerned Veterans for America summit, we need a veterans health system that isn’t focused on just bricks and mortars, but that puts care for our veterans at the center of everything it does. But to get to that system, the VA today must take reform seriously instead of dragging its feet at every opportunity.