MADISON, Wis. – Two U.S. senators are urging Vice President-elect Mike Pence, head of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, to hold the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for past failures.
In a letter to Pence, Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, write that the growing allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing at VA facilities nationwide are becoming more concerning.
“Whether it is unreasonable wait times at multiple facilities, the widespread overprescription of highly addictive opioids, veteran suicides, misconduct by VA management, or retaliation against whistleblowers, it is clear that not all veterans are receiving the high-quality care they deserve,” Johnson and Grassley wrote. “We are hopeful that under new leadership, the VA can embrace these principles to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the care they deserve.”
Johnson is chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Grassley is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The senators say they are particularly troubled by the veteran suicide epidemic, noting that they have strongly urged the VA inspector general to investigate suicides among Iowa and Wisconsin veterans to determine if the VA failed in its care. If so, how can the agency ensure such “failures never happen again.”
Congress, in the wake of the wait time scandals at the Phoenix VA, passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. The law established a pilot program in which veterans could seek care outside of the VA if they were unable to schedule an appointment within 30 days, or if they live far away from a VA facility.
“This program has not been implemented according to the letter and intent of the law, making it difficult to use for veterans,” the senators wrote. “We hope that under new leadership, the VA improves and expands the Choice Program for those veterans who wish to seek care from non-VA providers.”
Wisconsin’s Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been riddled with scandal. The hospital, known as ‘Candy Land” after reports detailed widespread overprescription of opioids, has found itself in the national spotlight again following word that nearly 600 veterans may have been exposed to serious infections.
“We believe the vast majority of VA employees are dedicated and hard-working civil servants,” Grassley and Johnson wrote. “However, the current Administration has shown that it is either unwilling or unable to hold employees accountable for wrongful conduct.
“The failure to hold officials accountable poisons the entire workforce.”
Read the full letter here.
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