WASHINGTON (7/29/14) — U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate Floor regarding the bipartisan VA reform conference report:
“America makes a promise to every man and woman who puts on the uniform. In exchange for their service, our country pledges that they will be well-trained, well-equipped, and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
It’s the least we can offer to the brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who put everything on the line so that we can live in freedom.
It’s a solemn pact, and that’s why the American people were so shocked to read some of the headlines we’ve seen over the past few months.
Headlines like, Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list.
And then, as the Obama Administration tried to cover its tracks, headlines like this: Veterans Affairs spies, stonewalls on people investigating it.
It’s a national disgrace.
Ailing veterans being put off for months by a hospital system that should be rushing to their aid…
Veterans dying while waiting for care
According to the government’s own report on these failures, we also know these problems were so ‘systemic’ that they spread to more than three-quarters of VA facilities surveyed — to nearly every corner of the country.
Kentuckians heard shocking news stories like the one about a Harrodsburg veteran who was being treated at the VA’s Lexington hospital.
The staff there declared him dead. And yet, when the veteran’s wife came to say her final goodbye, she found her husband breathing. With a pulse.
I was glad to learn that this veteran is now back home with his family recovering. But no veteran and no spouse should ever have had to go through such a horrific ordeal.
And yet, I continue to receive letters from Kentucky veterans who’ve been denied the care they deserve.
Like this one from a disabled veteran in Gradyville: ‘…I have had some of the most frustrating of times trying to receive the quality of health care that anyone deserves,’ he wrote.
Not only has it taken me months to be seen, but I have been told by a primary care physician that ‘He did not need to see me until my 6 month checkup’…I simply no longer have the time and money to invest into the run around I receive in trying to make an appeal…I gave up 4 years of my life and proper use of my right arm in this nation’s defense. I would have given my life without question to protect a country that I love. It breaks my heart to no longer be a part of an institution I so lovingly became a member [of]. Our nation’s veterans deserve so much more.
And thousands of Kentuckians have had to wait for more than a month at VA facilities in Louisville and Lexington.
So the Obama Administration needs to use every tool available to address the systemic failures of the VA — and it needs to work with Congress on reforms that can help address these challenges too.
Initially, the Obama Administration was slow to respond to the crisis.
The White House tried to treat it like some PR predicament to get beyond, rather than the true tragedy it was – a tragedy that required bipartisan action to investigate and address.
Ultimately, pressure from Republicans and revulsion from the American people forced the White House to take this crisis seriously.
Audits were conducted. Management changes were undertaken. And the necessity of serious reform was accepted. Eventually.
I was proud to support bipartisan VA reform legislation that passed the Senate last month.
And I’m encouraged by the progress of the conference committee towards completing a final compromise that can pass Congress and be signed into law.
The compromise legislation would introduce some much-needed accountability into the VA system and help increase patient choice.
In fact, the compromise bill appears to include two initiatives I specifically pressed with the President’s nominee to head the Veterans Affairs Department when I recently met with him.
One, I said we need to make it easier to fire VA bureaucrats who fail our veterans, and two, I said we need to allow veterans to seek care outside the VA if they face long wait times or if they do not live near a VA facility.
The conference report appears to include both. And I want to thank Senators Burr, McCain and Coburn for steadfastly fighting for the veterans choice part of the conference agreement that will allow our deserving veterans the option of accessing care in hospitals when VA facilitates are not available.
As for the President’s nominee to run the VA, Bob McDonald, we all know that he has a tough job ahead of him if he’s confirmed.
I made clear my expectations for dramatic changes when I met with him.
But if Mr. McDonald is willing to work in a collaborative and open manner with Congress, he will find a constructive partner on this side of the aisle.
We know that there is much we can, and should, do to address this crisis together.
So I’m hopeful.
Because when veterans are denied care, it’s a priority deserving of bipartisan attention. And the government needs to start living up again to the promises it made to our veterans.
We owe them no less.”
Information provided by Robert Steurer
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