Only Congress can end horror stories at the VA

Only Congress can end horror stories at the VA
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Now that the horrifying details of yet another scathing report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General (IG) are out, Congress must pass bold and meaningful legislation that will transform the way we deliver care to veterans.

If Congress does not respond to this latest crisis with the urgency required, we will predictably find ourselves in the same situation in the not too-distant-future. For the sake of our country’s veterans, we cannot allow this to happen.

The latest IG report comes on the heels of a travel scandal involving VA Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinFormer Trump VA secretary says staffer found plans to replace him in department copier VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE and the improper use of taxpayer dollars for travel. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we are now learning through another IG report on the Washington D.C. VA medical center that veterans were placed under anesthesia before hospital employees realized that they lacked the proper equipment to perform the medical procedures. VA employees then sprinted to private-sector hospitals mid-surgery to borrow medical supplies.

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Knowing that we treated our brave men and women like this should make every American sick to their stomach.

 

This is precisely why Congress must double down on important reforms that were enacted last year, while also continuing to push for more, until every veteran in our country receives the high-quality care they have earned. 

Before the release of the latest IG report, there was plenty of reason for hope. 

Just last year, the Trump administration successfully worked with both parties in Congress to send to the president’s desk the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which made it easier to get rid of employees who fail to properly care for our country’s veterans and afforded more protections to those who expose wrongdoing. 

Among those coming under increased scrutiny were employees at Hines VA Medical Center who reportedly served veterans raw and underprepared food. According to whistleblowers, one Jewish patient went without food for days because the hospital had run out of kosher meals. And this neglect happened while the head of the hospital’s nutrition program spent working hours selling handbags on the side.

Sadly, we know, after reading the latest IG report on the Washington, D.C. VA medical center, stories like this are not outliers. 

Fortunately, President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE is using his bully pulpit to demand action. For months, the president has been urging lawmakers to act decisively and urgently to improve veterans’ health care and provide veterans with increased choices outside of the VA system.

In fact, to break the congressional impasse, the administration recently issued a series of policy recommendations to help jumpstart stalled negotiations on VA reform legislation. The president’s ideas are sound. If adopted, they would streamline outside care programs, give veterans more health care options and reduce bureaucratic red tape.

Despite these efforts, Congress has still not passed legislation that would fix some of the core issues that are driving continued problems at the VA.

But with the latest IG report, the time has come to stop tinkering around the edges and waiting for the bureaucratic tectonic plates to shift. It is imperative that Congress send to the president’s desk a bill like the Veterans Care and Community Access Act of 2017 , which was introduced by Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators inch forward on federal privacy bill Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide MORE (R-Kan.), that will ensure that veterans are not trapped in failing VA hospitals, reduce bureaucracy and streamline reimbursement to community providers.

There is certainly more that Congress can do through legislation to fix what ails the VA, but passing Sens. McCain and Moran’s bill would be a great first step.

This cycle of expressing outrage after reading a scathing report of abuses at the VA, and then forgetting about it once the headlines fade must come to an end. The men and women who honorably served our country to defend our precious freedoms deserve much better from us and their elected officials.

Dan Caldwell is the executive director for Concerned Veterans for America and a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War.