Georgia veterans deserve first-class care

Moderated by Rick Badie

A $17 billion plan to overhaul the Veteran Affairs Department awaits the signature of President Barack Obama. Today, two of our congressional representatives, a Democrat and a Republican, give partisan takes on the bill and pledge to fight for the health care of veterans.

VA culture needs bipartisan fix

By David A. Scott

Ever since the Inspector General and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed the scandalous care at the Atlanta VA, I have been fighting to improve services for our veterans.

Last year, I toured the Atlanta VA with the Republican chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller, to see the situation firsthand. But I did not need an IG report to tell me something was amiss. My district offices have experienced a spike in veterans’ cases. Many of these cases were related to bureaucratic problems at the VA.

After receiving incomplete and misleading reports from the VA leadership in Washington, I was the first to call for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. I saw management and culture problems that would become a political problem if it were not addressed in a Truman-like manner. The buck had to stop somewhere. This is a serious problem in need of full bipartisan commitment to change the culture at the VA.Fortunately, this is one of the few examples of Congress working together to solve a problem. The House and Senate passed House Resolution 3230, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, by a large bipartisan vote. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

A veteran should not have to wait months for a medical appointment. The bill would allow a veteran enrolled in the VA health care system to receive care outside the VA system if the veteran is unable to secure an appointment at a VA medical facility within 30 days, or if the veteran resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility. A Veterans Choice Card to eligible veterans will facilitate care by non-VA providers.

The bill would fund additional physicians and medical staff, and authorize 27 major medical facility leases, including $6.4 million to expand the outpatient clinic in Austell. This additional capacity will help cut wait times.

To bring real accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers, the bill would authorize the VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service employees for poor performance or misconduct.

I have been working to recruit more psychiatrists to the VA and am glad legislation I sponsored is included in HR 3230. It expands student loan repayment programs to recruit specialty doctors, including psychiatrists, to the VA. Further, this bill allows veterans to receive in-state tuition. I have introduced bills in past years to create similar opportunities for active-duty state residents.

I am bringing the VA out to the community. The director of the Atlanta Regional Benefit Office, Al Bocchicchio, and the director of the Atlanta VA Medical Center, Leslie Wiggins, will attend my health fair Aug. 16 at Mundy’s Mill High School in Jonesboro. I encourage all metro area veterans with pending issues to attend.

Our work is not over. I will keep working on this issue until I hear from Georgia veterans that they are receiving first-class care in a timely manner.

David A. Scott, a Democrat, is U.S. representative for Georgia’s 13th Congressional District.

Returning quality, value to VA

By Johnny Isakson

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. With sweeping reforms put in place by the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, I am committed to seeing that we have a better VA health system.

There’s no greater calling for Congress or for the next secretary of the VA than to bring value back to the VA. I have 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 in place reforms to instill a system of success and accountability.My colleagues and I have worked 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.

Another critical element included in the Veterans’ Access to Care Act 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 pressure on metro Atlanta’s VA health care facilities and help handle veterans’ needs.

While we have put in place critical reforms to address the quality and access problems, 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 reform legislation, we included a provision to allow for the firing of incompetent or corrupt senior managers to provide accountability that has been sorely lacking. 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 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 a Republican senator from Georgia.





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