McCain wants answers on VA delays in healthcare for veterans
© Greg Nash

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Heatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post MORE (R-Ariz.) is demanding answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the wake of reports that roughly 35,000 veterans were delayed from enrolling in VA healthcare. 

McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald on Thursday suggesting veterans were potentially "delayed or discouraged" from getting VA health benefits. 

"I continue to be disappointed in the VA's inability to manage the benefit programs enacted by Congress," McCain wrote. "The VA has a robust budget and has been given ample additional resources to make the necessary changes to its systems and processes so that these 35,000 veterans could have been properly enrolled and received VA care."

More than 35,000 combat veterans, many of whom are Iraq War veterans, were blocked from enrolling because of a computer error, according to VA documents leaked to The Huffington Post. The veterans were listed as "pending" for not finishing a means test, which measures household income, something combat veterans aren't required to complete. 

Pointing to the fact that the documents were leaked by a VA whistleblower, McCain questioned McDonald on the department's level of transparency with both lawmakers and the public. 

"Why was this information not provided to Congress and had to be released by a whistleblower and, subsequently, by the media?," McCain asked, adding, "how can Congress and veterans be assured that this issue will not occur again with future benefit changes?"

McCain also wants to know who at the VA can modify the agency's system to let combat veterans enroll without a means test and whether anyone has been held responsible for the glitch. 

In addition, the Armed Services chairman wants to know what the department will do to let combat veterans know they can enroll for VA care without a means test. 

During a Politico event last week, McDonald was asked whether he was "aware" of the glitch, but sidestepped the question. 

"If the individual would give me their name and their phone number I would be happy to check out that particular instance," he said. "I like to deal with specifics and not generalities. Customer service is about one-on-one care."