VA stonewalling hurts veterans

As a heart surgeon who treated military veterans, I stand with veterans’ groups in support of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Management Accountability Act (H.R. 4031). This bill would permit VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to fire VA officials for incompetence. It’s an important first step to restoring veterans’ trust and accountability in the VA. 

On March 21, Secretary Shinseki delivered a speech, praising the Department’s performance on its 25th anniversary. He said “there is grandeur in what we do for this great Nation. No other department or agency of the federal government is a tied to both its past and the future as the VA is.” He also proclaimed veterans have a “seat at the table,” promising them “better care” and “better oversight.”  

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The speech does little to distinguish between the VA’s important mission and the department’s failing performance. Veterans are dying because of avoidable delays they face in the VA health system. Meanwhile, years of congressional letters highlighting severe medical quality problems go unanswered. Even Medicare does a better job, addressing problems with delays, patient satisfaction and treatment outcomes. 

During a recent House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on unanswered congressional inquiries, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson agreed the “status quo must change” and said the VA should respond “in a timely manner.” His written testimony does not mention inquiries VA employees simply ignore or throw away.    

By the VA’s own admission, thousands of Louisiana’s veterans face excessive wait and travel times or go without care altogether. Past VA bureaucratic errors block veterans’ local access to care, despite the Secretary’s personal promise to solve this problem in May 2012. We’ve seen enough stonewalling. Veterans deserve better leadership, transparency, and accountability within the VA. I urge the House and Senate to support H.R. 4031.

Boustany has represented Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District since 2013, and its 7th Congressional District from 2005 to 2013. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee and is chairman of its subcommittee on Oversight. district.  He is a cardiovascular surgeon.