GOP Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe, who was elected Thursday to head the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has a lot to tackle when he takes over the panel next year.
VA hospitals have had no shortage of PR nightmares in recent years, including a facility in Phoenix being found of improperly delaying patients’ care, and another in Wisconsin potentially infecting up to 597 veterans with HIV or hepatitis due to a dentist reusing equipment that didn’t meet regulations.
But supporters of Roe, who previously served in the United States Army Medical Corps, feel he brings a unique set of credentials to the position, which might help create policies that finally turn things around.
Roe said when he first got to Congress, he requested former House Speaker John Boehner place him on the committee, adding he’s seen how poorly Vietnam veterans were treated first-hand and wants to ensure those vets are receiving adequate benefits.
“I grew up in a military town, I have family in the military, I’m ex-military, my medical training was in a VA hospital, I have a VA medical center a mile from where I live — I’ve been on that campus a zillion times,” he told reporters after he won. “Where I practiced as an OB-GYN, most of the time when I was in practice, we had five veterans in our practice and saw veteran patients, so I couldn’t think of a better person qualified than myself to do that, and I really have a passion for it.”
While Roe, who will succeed Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida, said he’s “thrilled” to be selected by the Steering Committee to fill the role, he is also “a little apprehensive” due how big the position in regards to its personal nature.
“You really deal with people that have served the country and many of them are not being served the way they should be now,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is going to be a huge challenge and I told the committee when I spoke to them, ‘I might not be able to make any difference whatsoever if we don’t have the right person in the secretary seat, we’ve got to have the support of the conference, got to carve out a vision where we want to go and then execute a plan to get there.'”
Roe — who serves a district with 70,000 vets, three community outpatient clinics and a major VA medical center — said one of his top legislative goals is to expand benefit access to veterans, noting he believes patients, especially those in rural areas, need options for care outside the VA network.
“I know people have said this for years, the only way you are going to get the VA’s attention is to put the veteran back in charge of choosing where they go see a doctor,” he said. “I was in practice for 31 years, if you didn’t like me you could vote with your feet — you could go somewhere else. A veteran can’t do that, they get trapped in that system and they have nowhere else to go. I want to put the veteran in charge, if they don’t like their doctor or the care they give them, we could give them a little card and say you can go to your doctor in your hometown.”
Roe said he’s ready to create a vision that doesn’t involve making “the bureaucracy thicker,” and is confident he will be able to work well with the incoming administration.
“I read his [President-elect Trump] 10 points and eight of them I totally agree with,” he told the press. “I’ve heard his generalizations and I support it. I mean the night of the election, at 3:30 in the morning when he gave his speech, that was one of the first things out of his mouth — he is very committed to helping the veterans.”
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