In this week’s Republican address, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn calls on President Obama to nominate a new Veterans Affairs Secretary to address what he deems “the myriad failings” at the agency. Here are his words:
“Hello. My name is Tom Coburn.
As a physician and three-time cancer survivor, I know firsthand how frustrating the wait to see a doctor can be.
The Department of Veterans Affairs admitted this week that veterans must wait up to three months to get a doctor’s appointment. These delays have been linked to unnecessary deaths and complications.
This is unacceptable. It screams of government incompetency.
But the problems at the VA are far deeper than scheduling. Getting to see a doctor, after all, does not guarantee quality care.
Just like the VA is cooking the books to make wait times appear shorter, the department is also glossing over the growing number of hospitals with poor medical outcomes.
In some locations, like Boston and Pittsburgh, VA care is top notch. At others, such as at Phoenix, it is very subpar.
High death rates and complication rates are occurring at more and more VA centers. And this information is not being shared with our veterans.
I never served in the military, but like all Americans, I have the wonderful benefit of living in a great country because of those who put on our uniform.
It is unacceptable that the men and women who bravely fought for our freedom are losing their lives, not at the hands of terrorists or enemy combatants, but from neglect by the very government agency established to take care of them.
Ironically, the vets who fought for freedom are given the least amount of freedom over their own health care decisions. Too many veterans who rely upon the VA are stuck in a bureaucratic maze that limits their choice and does not provide the quality care that they deserve.
If you are an injured combat veteran, you should be the first in line, not the last, and your access should be guaranteed to be the best possible care.
There’s a simple cure to achieve these goals: Make every hospital a VA hospital.
VA hospitals serve an important and unique role but veterans should be allowed to choose where, when and from whom they receive treatment.
If a VA center is inconveniently located, veterans should be free to choose another doctor.
This week the Senate approved a bipartisan bill to empower veterans with the freedom they deserve.
Under this plan, veterans living over 40 miles away from VA clinic would be able to receive their care somewhere closer if they so choose to do so. Those who cannot receive a timely VA appointment would automatically have the option to see another doctor outside of the VA.
Bureaucrats would no longer override veterans’ choices.
The bill also holds VA accountable by making it easier to fire anyone who falsifies or manipulates data and makes it much more transparent by requiring disclosure of medical outcomes.
Passage of this bill and new leadership at the VA are just the first steps.
Congress cannot just hope the problems will now go away.
The reason veterans’ care has suffered for so long is that Congress has failed to hold the VA accountable.
In the last four years, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has held just a handful of hearings touching on veterans’ health. This committee’s only responsibility is to ensure veterans are being taken care of and it has failed to do its job.
The problems at the VA have long been documented by government investigators who have warned of false wait times and poor management for years. But some in Congress have been far more preoccupied with making new promises rather than fulfilling the promises already made.
Next week, I will be releasing an oversight report that exposes a culture within the VA where vets are not always a priority and in which administrators manipulate both data and employees to give the appearance that all is well.
Employees who do the wrong thing are rewarded with bonuses and upstanding employees are often bullied and face retaliation.
Construction costs of medical centers run over budget and the facilities have fallen behind schedule and still lack sufficient medical personnel to provide appropriate care.
VA employees sometimes disappear from work for weeks at a time while veterans cannot get their phone calls answered or returned.
Doctors who stop taking patients just after lunch so they can leave work.
And billions of dollars that could be better spent on health care are mismanaged and wasted.
Now that the Senate has passed legislation to give veterans more health care freedom, Congress must continue to do the work to improve the quality of the VA and make it a more responsive, and accountable and efficient organization.
And the President must nominate as Secretary a capable, experienced leader who possesses the management skills, leadership ability and determination to correct the failings of the VA, support the thousands of great VA workers who are committed to serving our veterans and ensure timely quality care to all of those who have served bravely.
The President also needs to use the tools he already has to clean up the systemic failures of management in his Administration.
Veterans who have survived war should no longer have to do battle with bureaucracy to access the best possible care.
It’s time to give our combat-impacted veterans the very best care that they have earned and deserve.
The foundation of having other people serve depends on how well we take care of those that have.
May God bless you.”
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