The House of Representatives plans to consider two bills this week aimed at improving Veterans Affairs care, but Rep. Todd Young, R-Indiana, says Congress needs to take further steps to change the VA health care system.
A preliminary report from the VA Inspector General released today shows veterans wait on average 115 days for an appointment. The report also indicates 1,700 veterans at the Phoenix facility were not properly registered on the waiting list.
This comes after allegations that at least 40 patients in a Phoenix, Ariz., VA hospital died while waiting for care.
Indiana alone has seen thirteen wrongful deaths at VA hospitals in the state over the last decade. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the nationwide total is nearly 1,000.
Since the Phoenix allegations, the VA Secretary for Health resigned, President Obama called for an investigation of the Phoenix facility and veterans groups have called for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Secretary for Veterans Affairs.
“It’s completely unacceptable that our veterans are receiving this level of healthcare treatment,” says Young, who is a veteran himself.
In Indiana, Young says he has received mixed feedback about the quality of care.
“To be candid, the feedback I received from my constituents is that the level of care and level of customer service varies considerably from site to site,” he says. “There’s actually evidence to suggest that, as well, that we received from our policy analysts.”
One bill being considered this week would require the secretary of VA to implement a performance appraisal system for VA senior staff. The other requires the Inspector General to notify congress if the VA secretary has failed to adopt recommended actions within any Inspector General report.
Another solution, says Young, might be to allow veterans access to high-quality medical care in their communities outside of the VA system. This option would still be supported with federal dollars.
Young says he is now waiting to see how the IG investigation pans out.
“I’m trying to be fair and measured at this point, but I have to admit a visceral sense of outrage when I heard about this list which was kept secret, seemingly, from policymakers and the American people alike,” he says. “So we’re looking into that. I don’t know whether that outrage will diminish or increase when I read the IG report, so I’m trying to be responsible here in reserving full judgment until I see that report.”
Young says President Obama is partially to blame for the misconduct but, ultimately, it’s Congress’s job to hold individuals accountable.
Still, some, like Indiana Veterans Affairs Director Jim Brown, are sympathizing with VA officials like Secretary Shinseki.
“You poke the monster, it pokes back. That’s the bureaucracy out there. I would say if they need something else to be done, the administration needs to help Eric Shinseki- it’s not on Eric Shinseki,” says Brown.