The VA Office of Inspector General recently unveiled a report looking at health care for our nation’s veterans. What it discovered shed light on a tragic and unacceptable fact. Our health care system has failed those who sacrificed mind and body in service to their country.
The report targeted the Phoenix Health Care System, confirming it intentionally prevented at least 1,700 veterans from receive proper care in a timely manner. Veterans, on average, waited about four months before receiving their first primary care appointment. Phoenix superiors even placed pressure on schedulers to change waiting times, which factor into staff bonuses and salary raises.
Acting Inspector General Robert Griffin cited allegations of daily mismanagement, inappropriate hirings, sexual harassment, and bullying within Phoenix. Exacerbating matters, Griffin said his agency discovered a nationwide systemic problem of inappropriate scheduling practices.
As the report gained momentum, we’ve heard from witnesses who confirmed that they or loved ones have faced serious hardships when seeking medical help. Some testimonies claim it’s even led to death.
The news quickly shifted to blame for the VA Administration Secretary, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who received pressure from lawmakers to resign his position. I reluctantly joined the call for Gen. Shinseki’s resignation, knowing the General — who is a disabled war veteran — has provided decades of service to fellow veterans, including myself and my father. Nevertheless, the gross misconduct taking place at VA healthcare facilities has proven nothing short of egregious, and I fear Gen. Shinseki could no longer oversee the reforms needed to make this system reflective of the great service provided by our veterans.
On Friday, May 30, Gen. Shinseki dutifully submitted his resignation; a move which did not fix the problem at hand but provided recognition of the problem itself.
As President Obama searches for a new secretary to fill the General’s vacant position, we’re faced with the question of our commitment to fully resolving this issue. Do we welcome the new secretary and cite Phoenix as an anomaly in need of a fix, or do we stand ready to protect those men and women who once protected us?
I believe we cannot stop until every veteran and serviceman and woman knows they can rely upon a healthcare system at home; whether they live in Phoenix or Phillips County; Manhattan or Mountain Home.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and urge the President to help us to implement the changes needed to have healthy VA clinics across our country; without waiting lists.