The men and women who volunteer to serve in the military are brave and selfless. They don't deserve to be served by a Department of Veterans Affairs more concerned with manipulating data for financial gain than with solving problems and serving our veterans with the best possible medical care.
We have arrived at a unique moment of clarity and purpose. Thanks to the efforts of courageous whistleblowers, dishonesty by some in the VA has been exposed. It is up to those of us on the Joint House-Senate VA Conference Committee to propose patient-centered reforms that rid the VA of its corrosive culture and yield better healthcare outcomes for our veterans.
The problem is not money. In fact, VA funding for patient care has nearly tripled since 2001, while the number of patients has only increased by 50 percent. The VA has returned funding in each of the last four years and was planning to roll over more than $450 million worth of medical-care funding from this year's budget before the current crisis came to light.
The problems at the VA are rooted in a culture of corruption by some and a lack of accountability.
To correct these failures, reforms must give VA leadership the power to remove employees who demonstrate mismanagement and neglect. VA employees at every level must know that they will be held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, the Senate provisions on employee accountability are weak and have the effect of protecting union employees. Any final VA reform bill must ensure accountability in order to truly reform the culture within the VA.
The VA reform bill must also establish clear standards for timely and accessible care. When the VA fails to meet those standards, veterans must have the option to seek non-VA care without additional delay. One veteran in my district waited 55 days for a biopsy, only to find out that he has cancer. If my staff hadn't gotten involved, he would have waited another month or more, letting the cancer spread even further. Veterans' lives and health are at risk due to these unwarranted wait times.
While some of these reforms may come with a cost, we in Congress should ensure that any costs are dealt with responsibly. Funding is not the problem in the VA, and simply throwing more money at the VA will not fix things. Instead, we need systemic reforms such as instituting a culture of accountability and firm, realistic standards for wait times. If there are costs, we should find responsible ways to pay for those costs by ending wasteful spending elsewhere. I believe we can provide world-class care for our veterans without adding to our debt.
From my seat at the VA Conference Committee table, I pledge to you that I will be an aggressive voice on behalf of our veterans, not the union-coddled bureaucrats who have failed them.
Our heroic family, friends and neighbors who have worn the uniform and served America have done everything we’ve ever asked of them. The least we can do for them is to compel VA bureaucrats to do their jobs and give veterans the best available medical care and the respect that they have earned.Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., is a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the joint House-Senate conference committee working on VA reform legislation.