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June 10, 2014
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today expressed outrage on the findings of an audit by the Veterans Administration (VA) detailing organizational failure and dysfunction within the VA that has led to lengthy delays in veterans' access to health treatment and care:
"I am outraged at this colossal organization failure at VA which has put lip service ahead of the health and well-being of our veterans. We must get to the bottom of delay and denial at the VA.
"When it comes to Maryland, this report outlines both good news and bad news. The bad news is that the average wait time for new primary care patients is 81 days. This is unacceptable and clearly shows that more must be done. The good news for Maryland contained within this report is that for existing VA patients, the wait time to see a doctor is as low as four days. Additionally, the audit did not find any evidence of wrongdoing or deceptive or duplicitous behavior on the part of employees in Baltimore.
"This week I will vote in the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders and John McCain that makes a significant down payment on reforms needed to address this crisis immediately. Our veterans who have fought on the front line shouldn't have to stand in line for the care and benefits they have earned and deserve."
The Veterans' Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, legislation introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and supported by Senator Mikulski, would address patient wait times at hospitals and improve accountability at the Veterans Affairs administration. Specifically, the legislation would give veterans access to private doctors, community health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities and facilities funded by the Indian Health Service. It would allow veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic to access more convenient private care.
The bill also would provide for the hiring of new medical personnel in an expedited manner at hospitals and clinics that lack enough doctors, nurses and other medical staff to provide quality care in a timely manner and ensures dedicated funding is available to hire health care professionals. And at a time when new construction is needed for VA health care around the country, this legislation allows VA to lease 26 new medical facilities that would expand access to care.
In addition to these provisions, this bill would allow the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to terminate senior VA employees for poor performance. This would also require the Secretary to provide Congress a justification for any removal within 30 days and offers terminated employees the ability to appeal to the Merit System Protection Board within seven days of termination, providing them the protections from retaliation and discrimination they deserve.
Lastly, the bill takes another step in ensuring our service members are prepare for their transition to civilian life by requiring public higher institutions to give veterans residing in their state in-state tuition while using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
In May, Senator Mikulski used her oversight position as Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate and potential criminal wrongdoing. A copy of that letter is available here.