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Roskam: Work needed to fix VA hospital system

Published: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 12:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:38 a.m. CDT
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U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, represents Illinois' 6th District

Over the past several weeks, disturbing reports have emerged of widespread mismanagement at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that resulted in shockingly poor treatment of our veterans at facilities across the country, including at Chicagoland’s own Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.

News of secret, off-the-book waiting lists for veterans seeking treatment in Phoenix used by VA officials in order to artificially lower reported wait times for care are clearly just the tip of the iceberg. The VA scandal came into sharp focus last week, when the VA Inspector General confirmed suspicions of “systemic” delayed medical care and wait list fraud throughout the VA health system. Manipulating waiting lists enabled hospitals to circumvent the VA mandate that patients receive care within 14 days of submitting a request, which in turn yielded successful performance reviews and millions of dollars in bonuses for VA management officials. The IG’s report also found that veterans at the Phoenix VA experienced average wait times of 114 days for primary care – nearly five times longer than what was officially reported – and that 1,700 veterans were kept off waiting lists altogether.

Since the scandal broke, the VA has reportedly expanded its investigation from 10 to 42 medical facilities nationwide. While the Department is not disclosing which facilities are under investigation, I hope and expect they will look into allegations of secret waiting lists and improper delays at Hines VA Hospital, as well as claims that veterans received informational briefings and in-group general consultations instead of necessary medical care, again a concerted effort to cook the books instead of meeting the needs of veterans. Problems at Hines date back to at least 1999, when the Inspector General found the hospital had, “the most inefficient physical plant for inpatient care and the most significant compliance issues with patient privacy.” Now, new documents allege that five veterans died while waiting for care at Hines and yet, shockingly, since 2011 hospital employees were awarded a staggering $16.6 million in performance bonuses.

For years now, the House Veterans Affairs Committee has been conducting a bipartisan investigation into broad VA mismanagement and corruption issues, including unsanitary conditions, the immense claims backlog, and in some cases, woefully substandard care. The goal has been to change the system and fix these problems.

We already know thousands of veterans and their families have been hurt by delays in treatment and substandard care, and that number is likely to grow as more veterans come forward. House Republicans are encouraging those impacted by VA mismanagement to share their stories at gop.gov/yourstory so we can more fully understand the scope of this problem and fix it.

The men and women who bravely fought for our country deserve immediate action and immediate consequences for those VA employees who broke faith with our veterans. Secretary Eric Shinseki was right to step down as head of the VA, but it is clear the problem goes well beyond one person. Fixing this problem requires new management throughout the VA, and a culture of transparency and accountability across the whole system.  

Recently, the House passed the VA Management Accountability Act to give Department leaders every possible tool to improve management and hold their team responsible for delivering high quality care to our nation’s veterans, or else face termination. This legislation gives the VA secretary the legal authority to demote or fire senior department executives who are not fulfilling their responsibilities. The Senate should immediately take up this bill so we can send it to the president without delay. Sweeping changes are needed to eliminate institutional corruption and make the VA work again, and House Republicans are committed to making this right for our veterans and their families.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, represents Illinois' 6th District

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