Our country’s veterans have risked life and limb to protect our freedoms and ensure our way of life. For too long the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed our nation’s veterans by operating under a culture of corruption and neglect that lacked accountability or leadership. Veterans deserve better than that and with the sweeping reforms put in place by theVeterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, I am committed to personally seeing to it that we have a better VA health system delivery for our veterans.
There’s no greater calling for us in Congress or for the next secretary of the VA than to bring value back to the VA and our veterans. I have personally made it my mission to get to the bottom of the VA’s problems, first uncovering signs of neglect and mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center after holding a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee field hearing there last summer. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the effort to fix the VA’s problems and put into place reforms to instill a system of success and accountability for the future.
Over the last several weeks, my colleagues and I have worked together on a compromise that is an overdue step toward helping improve the quality and timeliness of care by giving veterans a choice. In this reform legislation, the VA is required to give veterans the opportunity to go to a private provider if they cannot secure an appointment at the VA within a reasonable amount of time, or if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. I’ve said that bringing choice and competition into the mix will improve the quality and delivery of care for our veterans, and I believe this reform legislation goes a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
Another critical element included in the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 is the expansion of the VA’s internal capacity to provide timely care to veterans, including $6.4 million for a new, larger VA outpatient center in Cobb County, to alleviate the pressure on the metro Atlanta’s VA health care facilities and help handle the veterans’ needs of the 21st century.
While we have put in place many critical reforms to address the quality and access problems for our nation’s veterans, until we root out this culture of corruption and misconduct within the VA, more must be done to ensure we put our veterans first.
That’s why in the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 we included a provision to allow for the firing of incompetent or corrupt senior managers to provide real accountability that for years has been sorely lacking. I believe this authority gives the new VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, the tools needed to enforce the VA and make it a responsive organization.
In Congress, we are responsible for providing critical oversight and seeing to it that the culture of the VA changes so that we have accountability from top to bottom in the senior leadership and management of the Department of Veterans Affairs. We owe veterans nothing less than everything to ensure the well-being of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as we send them to war and, most importantly, when they return home from the battlefield. That’s a passion of mine, and as a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I am committed to keeping this promise.
Johnny Isakson is the junior U.S. senator for Georgia. He serves on the Senate Finance Committee, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and on the Veterans Affairs Committee.