Buchanan Washington Examiner Op-Ed on VA Accountability Act
The Washington Examiner
By REP. VERN BUCHANAN • 7/29/15
President John F. Kennedy once remarked, "As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them."
Too often, the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed in its responsibility to treat our nation's veterans with the respect they deserve and provide them with the care they need.
Over a year ago, we learned that employees at 110 VA facilities nationwide kept secret lists to conceal the amount of time veterans waited for medical care. Some veterans died while on these lists, and the scandal rightly shocked our national conscience.
Congress has since taken important steps towards improving the VA, but there is still much work to be done.
Since the secret wait-lists came to light, only three lower-level employees have been successfully fired for wait-time manipulation. In the meantime, not a single senior VA executive was terminated for this obscene deception.
Even though Congress approved emergency funding to improve veterans' healthcare last year, the number of veterans waiting more than one month to receive care has increased by 50 percent.
And all of this goes on while VA bureaucrats at facilities with some of the worst wait-times in the nation continue to receive their bonuses. This is outrageous, and it reflects a deeper cultural problem within the agency.
Today, the House of Representatives will act to fix that problem by passing the "VA Accountability Act of 2015." I am a co-sponsor of this common-sense legislation, which I hope will foster a culture of responsibility at an agency that has lost its way.
This bipartisan measure (H.R. 1994) empowers the secretary of Veterans Affairs to remove or demote any VA employee for incompetence, misconduct or corruption. It also provides stronger protection for whistleblowers when they come forward to report misconduct at VA facilities.
The VA identifies "Excellence" as one of its "Five Core Values," saying that all of its employees will "strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them."
The "VA Accountability Act" will help employees live up to the standard they have set for themselves.
I take seriously the government's duty to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us. It is an honor to represent more than 70,000 veterans in my congressional district in Southwest Florida, and I have no higher priority than ensuring they receive the recognition and benefits they have earned.
Last week, President Obama signed into law legislation I authored allowing all veterans in America to receive an official identification card from the VA. Many veterans have no way to prove their service, other than carrying around their official military records.
These records, known as the DD-214, also contain sensitive personal information which puts veterans at needless risk for identity theft. The Veterans Identification Card Act will help these individuals protect their privacy and prove their service.
Anyone who has served his or her country in uniform deserves all of the respect and appreciation a grateful nation can offer.
Whether it is holding the individuals responsible for veterans' healthcare to the highest standards of excellence or allowing veterans to obtain a simple ID card to make their lives easier, we must always look for opportunities to express our gratitude to those who have served our country.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Florida, is serving his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served six years in the Michigan Air National Guard and four years on the House Veterans Affairs Committee