Overmedication, secret wait lists, and backlogs of disability claims and appeals are just some of the challenges still plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs. Essential casework files have been intentionally destroyed causing veteran claims processing to take even longer. Over $6 billion in taxpayer funds has been inappropriately spent by VA officials annually.
Veterans suffering from the mental wounds of war are not getting the standard of care they desperately need. And now, the VA is planning on closing hospitals and denying services to veterans due to a $2.5 billion budget shortfall. These are just some of the failures of our VA that have been unearthed since 2013.
Most concerning with these horrific revelations is the lack of accountability within the VA administration. Despite a number of serious issues in the mismanagement of VA care facilities across the nation, such as the manipulation of wait times and secret wait lists that could have led to the death of 40 veterans at the Phoenix VA, or over 30,000 calls placed by veterans at the Philadelphia VA call center that were not responded to for over 300 days, the VA has not taken action against many of those responsible.
Not only are current facilities in a state of disarray, but new construction projects are suffering just as badly. Efforts to construct a “state-of-the-art” hospital facility in Denver have been derailed time and time again resulting in staggering cost overruns. This facility, which has been in construction for decades, was originally estimated to cost roughly $606 million. Current cost estimates for the barely half-completed facility have soared to well over $1 billion, and final construction costs are expected to be roughly $1.7 billion. To further put this massive cost overrun in perspective, the total expenditure for this project is now roughly $500 million more than the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.
This is not acceptable. Together, as a nation, we must stand up and defend the brave men and women who put their lives on the line in defense of our own. These American heroes deserve the highest quality of care at our VA facilities, which is why I am proud to support and cosponsor the VA Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 1994).
The VA Accountability Act is a commonsense reform bill that will give the Secretary of the VA the added authority to remove any VA employee based on misconduct. Providing the VA with this flexibility is essential to holding poor performing VA employees accountable. Even the Deputy Secretary of the VA, Sloan Gibson, has testified in front of the House Veterans Affairs committee, which I serve on, stating the need for additional flexibility to remove or demote problematic employees, indicating this is a reason more people have not been held accountable for the VA scandal.
H.R. 1994 provides the Secretary with an additional tool to hold certain bad actors accountable at the VA. I firmly believe that 99 percent of VA employees do genuinely care about the work they do, however, those who are not acting in the best interest of veterans need to be removed. Not only are the misdoings by the VA hurting our veterans, but billions of taxpayer dollars have been blindly misspent due to the lack of accountability.
This legislation will establish an 18 month probationary period for new employees, providing more oversight at the management level. The legislation also enhances protections against whistleblowers, giving employees the security they need to step forward about mismanagement at our VA centers across the country.
Fighting for our veterans who fought for us has always been one of my top priorities, which is why I am proud to serve on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.
When it comes to our veterans, there is so much more we can do to improve their quality of life and care, and it starts with VA accountability.
Next week, Congress is set to vote on the VA Accountability Act of 2015. Helping our veterans should not be a partisan issue. I urge all of my colleagues, Democrat or Republican, to vote in support of accountability and reform for the VA system — and most importantly, to vote in support of protecting our veterans.
Congressman Lee Zeldin (Rep, NY-1) serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, as well as the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Congressman Zeldin is a U.S. Army veteran who continues to serve as a Major in the Army Reserves. The First Congressional District of New York is located in Suffolk County, which has the highest veteran population in New York State and the second highest population of veterans in the country.