It has been more than a year since General Eric Shinseki resigned as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs after widespread mismanagement and secret wait lists were exposed — and we are still waiting for President Obama to offer a long-term plan for reform.
August also marks one year since the president signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act into law, which gave the secretary new authority to fire senior employees. Yet, we are still waiting for those responsible for the secret lists at 110 VA facilities to be fired and held accountable. So far, only one person has been fired, while the others are still collecting paychecks from taxpayers.
The president promised reform, but at the VA we are seeing much of the same — more scandals, more arrogance, and no accountability.
For example, despite being given more than $16 billion to improve care and shorten wait times, the latest data shows the number of patients waiting more than 90 days for an appointment has nearly doubled nationwide. In Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reports that our clinics are “barely better.” It is no wonder that my office has more constituent casework open with the Department of Veterans Affairs than any other federal agency, including the IRS and Social Security Administration.
In addition, the VA continues to spend your taxpayer dollars carelessly and irresponsibly. A recent internal watchdog report revealed that the VA is spending more than $6 billion a year illegally on items like excessive medical supplies and unlawful contracts. The senior official who authored the report even said that the “doors are swung open to fraud, waste and abuse,” and that these actions “may potentially result in serious harm or death to America’s veterans.”
So while the VA is spending your tax dollars illegally and putting veterans in harm’s way, it is still handing out undeserved bonuses to senior officials responsible for serious mismanagement. Just last month, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discovered that top officials gave a retention bonus to the administrator who ignored the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA. Even though six veterans died under his watch, the VA awarded him two bonuses, totaling more than $100,000, after the scandal was uncovered and he resigned in 2013.
Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices and this administration is failing to keep the president’s promise to “do right by our veterans across the board, as long as it takes.” The House will continue to lead to address these ongoing problems, improve access to care, and hold the VA accountable, but only the administration can change the culture from within.
What is the president waiting for? He owes the American people a plan. Not a promise or a pledge, but a real plan that better serves those who sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms.