“Get your checkbooks out.”
That was the demand one VA official recently made to Congress after the agency uncovered a whole new string of problems. Waiting lists are longer. Waste, fraud, and abuse are everywhere. And the agency can’t even tell you exactly how many veterans died while waiting for care. Here the VA can’t fulfill its most basic responsibilities, and its leaders expect more money from taxpayers without any reform whatsoever.
From the start, Republicans have taken a different approach. We’re committed to building a 21st-century VA that gives our veterans the care they need when they need it. Several reforms we’ve passed and enacted into law over this last year are about delivering on this vision:
#1: For the first time, veterans are able to seek private care outside the VA. A law we passed last year made it so that veterans could apply for private care through the Choice Program if they are unable to get an appointment from the VA within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. A new report shows that 65 percent of eligible veterans have chosen this private program over VA care. (H.R. 3230, 113th Congress)
#2: The VA Secretary now has the authority to fire or demote senior executives who are failing our veterans. When the VA’s leaders insisted that they did not have the authority to take action against bureaucrats, we eliminated that excuse and took the first step towards real accountability. (H.R. 3230, 113th Congress)
#3: Veterans now have better access to mental health resources. This law is designed to help prevent veteran suicides, which occur at a rate of at least 22 per day. It is named in honor of Clay Hunt, a decorated Marine who struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. (H.R. 203, 114th Congress)
#4: It is now easier for veterans to find good-paying jobs. The Hire More Heroes Act, a top priority for the new Congress, gives small businesses incentives to hire veterans by offering relief from ObamaCare mandates. It was the first jobs bill that the House passed this year. (H.R. 3236, 114th Congress)
#5: We increased funding to improve veterans’ health care, prioritizing ending the disability claims backlog and improving the transfer of health care records while rescinding $41 million from VA performance bonuses. (H.R. 83, 113th Congress)
#6: More veterans will be able to take advantage of private care because of changes we recently made to cut red tape and expand eligibility for the Choice Program. We also directed the VA to come up with a plan to consolidate all of its private care programs into a single, stronger Choice Program. This is good government, and could lead to even better and faster care for veterans. (H.R. 3236, 114th Congress)
#7: Veterans will now be able to use a permanent ID card that proves their military service. Instead of making veterans carry around old forms that contain sensitive information, this will make it easier for them to get the services they need and provide more protection from identity theft. (H.R. 91, 114th Congress)
In addition, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee has conducted rigorous oversight to get to the bottom of what’s going on at the VA. According to the Majority Leader, the committee has already conducted some 45 hearings on these issues during this Congress.
This is progress, but we still have a long way to go. For example, even though we’ve given the VA Secretary more authority to fire executives, only a few employees have actually been fired for manipulating wait lists – a practice that went on at some 110 facilities. So we’ve just passed a bill in the House that gives the VA Secretary the authority to fire any employee who is failing our veterans.
We will keep passing reforms when and where we can, but it’s as clear as ever that only President Obama can truly change the culture from within at the VA. The nation needs a real, long-term vision to deliver the change our veterans are demanding.