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COLUMN: Long-Due Accountability for Our Veterans

June 27, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Like many Americans, I have been very concerned about the reports of scandals and incidents of mistreatment of our veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in recent years. I have heard stories firsthand from veterans in Central Washington about their negative experiences at VA facilities and their frustrations with the bureaucratic process. From secret wait lists for appointments and poor hospital conditions to the over-prescription of opioids, these practices have led to the abuse, and even deaths, of veterans across the country. While I recognize that some of these systemic problems are deep-rooted, it is important that Congress unites as a legislative body to resolve these issues in a bipartisan manner.

Bipartisanship is clear when Congress is faced with improving the quality of benefits and access to healthcare for those who have earned it through their service to our country. Veterans deserve the best care we can offer, and we can all agree that the VA is in need of an overhaul. S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, was recently signed into law by President Trump. This legislation, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, holds VA employees accountable for wrongdoing by creating a more efficient, streamlined process for removing, demoting, or suspending VA employees for poor performance or misconduct. Additionally, it creates the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to protect the hardworking VA employees that expose corruption within the system. I am pleased with the passage of S. 1094 and look forward to seeing positive changes within the Department.

Eliminating bureaucratic red tape and holding these employees accountable is the first step to making the real changes needed to fix the VA system. Passing this legislation into law is just the beginning, and I continue to work with my colleagues on these important issues. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and I recently introduced H.R. 1066, VA Management Alignment Act of 2017, a bipartisan bill that requires the VA to report to Congress on steps they will take to reorganize their management practices to improve veterans’ access to care and recommend legislative changes needed to create more effective accountability. Passing this legislation will help to further improve conditions for our veterans at VA facilities across the country and provide a framework to address problems on behalf of the men and women who served in uniform.

There is a strong precedent of bipartisanship when it comes to veteran issues, and we must continue to show that we are committed to working together, across the aisle, to provide the care and benefits that our veterans have earned through their service and sacrifice.