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The Call of Duty to Our Veterans

June 16, 2014
Weekly Columns

True patriotism is embodied in the lives of those who volunteered to defend and protect our nation, and their remarkable, selfless acts of service must never be taken for granted. We are forever indebted to them for their service, and they deserve the utmost support and appreciation every day of the year. Not only should they receive our continuous gratitude, but just as they answered the dangerous call of duty, we have the duty to take care of them when they return home from the battlefield.

Today, there are more than 1.4 million service members on active duty and 21 million veterans living in the United States. Many of our veterans return from war forever changed, requiring care for both physical and mental challenges. Following their time in combat, our veterans depend on the health services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Unfortunately, we were recently confronted by the outrageous treatment of our veterans due to mismanagement at the VA. This scandal was first uncovered at a VA facility in Phoenix that was allegedly falsifying records to hide actual wait times through official and non-official lists. That non-official list at the Phoenix facility was later discovered to have more than 1,500 veterans needing care and eventually led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. 

Not only is this negligence wrong, but it prevented our veterans from getting the care they needed when they needed it. Moreover, it is believed that dozens of our nation’s veterans on that non-official list may have died while waiting for care.

Even though the scandal was first uncovered in Phoenix, it has since been revealed that other VA facilities across the country have caused unnecessary wait times for our veterans. According to last week’s findings of an audit undergone by the VA, more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more to be seen. Beyond that, it was discovered that VA facilities failed to even schedule appointments for nearly 64,000 veterans over the last 10 years. 

While we continue to investigate and look for ways to remedy the unacceptable situation at the VA, I am pleased that lawmakers have immediately started to address the problems and continued to find both short and long-term solutions. In late May, the House passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, which gives the VA Secretary the authority to remove senior executives if performance warrants it.

Last week, the House unanimously passed the Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014, which allows veterans to seek medical care through a non-Department facility if they are unable to get an appointment secured within 14 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility. I am pleased that lawmakers passed this measure because it will give veterans the option of seeing a doctor elsewhere, especially if their health needs require urgent attention. Lawmakers also passed by voice vote the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act of 2014, which provides greater accountability of the VA through the Inspector General. 

The problems at the VA are not ones that can be put off for another day. We must work with urgency to solve the issues and hold accountable those responsible. Never should we fail to take care of those who put their lives on the line for us.