House Republican leaders issue letter to Obama about VA scandal

A group of key Republicans issued a letter to President Obama on Wednesday outlining actions they want the White House to take to address widespread scheduling issues at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The lawmakers, who included House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), along with Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), said the resignation of former VA secretary Eric Shinseki last week is not enough to fix the VA’s problems.


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, left, and House Speaker John Boehner. (Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg)

The Republicans asked that Obama support GOP legislation aimed at addressing treatment delays and allowing the VA secretary to fire senior executives over poor performance. They also said he should direct the VA to cooperate with congressional committees as they investigate the scheduling matter, which involves manipulation of appointment records to hide long wait times.

Below is the full text of the letter:

We write to express deep concern regarding the systemic problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs and its affiliated Veterans Health Administration facilities. You recently announced that Secretary Shinseki resigned and that you intend to replace him. We do not believe this addresses the fundamental problem – which is the abject failure of the department to meet the needs of our veterans.

Much more needs to be done. “Our first job,” you said last week, “is let’s take care of some basic management issues.” We agree, which is why, last month, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act. This legislation provides the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with the authority to remove or demote senior officials who are underperforming. This is much-needed given your own audit’s findings that “some front-line, middle, and senior managers felt compelled to manipulate” records to meet performance goals. Unfortunately, as you may know, Senate Democrats blocked the measure, after it received 390 votes in the House. We ask that you publicly call on Senate Democrats to reconsider their obstruction, and immediately pass H.R. 4031 so we can begin to address these “basic management issues.”

Next, we request that you direct the VA to cooperate with the House and Senate as both chambers conduct the necessary oversight. As you may also know, the department has repeatedly failed to provide the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee with timely information. This is unacceptable and unnecessary. You yourself have said that addressing this problem should not be politicized, which is why we hope this will not continue to be an issue.

Third, your administration has proposed to “triage” 1,700 veterans who are waiting for care in Phoenix, Arizona. In light of the systemic nature of this problem, however, how will you address veterans who are waiting for care across the country? All veterans on waiting lists should be able to easily access care outside the VA without waiting for a potentially corrupt facility to approve their request. Our veterans should not be left in limbo, relying on what your own audit acknowledges is a “systemic lack of integrity within some Veterans Health Administration facilities.” In the House, Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller is introducing legislation that would give any veteran unable to obtain an appointment within 30 days the option to receive non-VA care. We ask that you support this proposal, or offer an immediate, effective alternative.

While all of these are strong first steps, none are a substitute for long-term solutions. It is imperative that you lay out for the American people your vision for reforming what is clearly a broken system. Are you willing to do whatever it takes, pending the results of the investigations that are underway, to ensure our veterans get the care we owe them, even if it means shaking up the current bureaucracy and rethinking the entire system? Do you agree the VA is a system that may need to be fundamentally transformed in order to meet its mandate of service and care to our nation’s veterans? The VA scandal is a national disgrace, and Americans are eager to know the extent of your willingness to personally take action in order to make things right for those who have served.

We look forward to your response to our short-term requests as well as your long-term plan to ensure that we keep our promises to our veterans and their families.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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