Amid a growing fervor over reports alleging mistreatment of military veterans in Alabama’s VA system — and a purported campaign to cover up and retaliate against whistleblowers — two Alabama members of Congress have stepped up their efforts to reform the deeply entrenched culture that they say led to a pattern of abuse.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby first spoke to whistleblower and associate director at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System Richard Tremaine in June 2014. That’s when he told her of his grave concerns observing fraud and the mishandling of records on the part of his superiors and, afterward, a culture of retaliation and exclusion.
Roby helped introduce Tremaine this month when he testified before Congress.
“I speak with you today, with a heavy heart,” Tremaine told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Disgusted by continued cover-ups, a discrediting campaign through open-ended investigations, and the attempted destruction of my career, by the very VA I have always loved being part of.”
Roby joined with Tremaine in expressing outrage over the VA’s failures in central Alabama. She said she is tired of asking nicely for the federal VA to get a hold on the situation
The congressman from Alabama’s 1st District, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, has been outspoken on the issue as well.
On Tuesday, he called for a new VA clinic in Mobile.
“Our veterans have waited far too long for a new VA clinic in Mobile, and it is past time the VA moves the process forward,” Byrne said in a prepared statement. “The current Mobile clinic is outdated and too small to adequately meet the needs of our area’s veterans. Years ago the VA committed to the construction of a new clinic in Mobile, but bureaucratic obstacles continue to hold the process up.”
Byrne has also co-sponsored legislation to grant veterans improved access to private care, in the midst of so many obstacles to quality public services in central Alabama.
Byrne said in a prepared statement Tuesday: “[T]he VA’s bureaucratic delays aren’t just hurting our veterans, but they are adding additional costs to the American taxpayer. I understand the unique challenges facing the VA as they undergo reforms, but they can’t lose sight of their number one responsibility: to adequately care for our veterans.”
The pair faces a difficult challenge to be sure, as news circulates that Alabamian veterans continue to face far longer wait times than their counterparts elsewhere.
Both pledge to continue to fight for improved local VA institutions.
Said Roby to Yellowhammer News regarding the wait-time reports: “There are a lot of good people at the VA who deeply care for our veterans and work hard to give them care. But, the truth is, there are also those that aren’t doing the job and who don’t have the best interests of our veterans in mind.
“That culture has festered at Central Alabama for years,” she said. “It has carried over through multiple directors, and it isn’t going to change until Secretary McDonald gets serious and puts leadership in place that will clean house.
“We need a permanent system director who is empowered and willing to change the lousy culture and turn the place around. I’ll take that message back to Washington … where improving care for veterans remains my top priority.”
Byrne echoed that Tuesday via a news release: “Veterans in southwest Alabama deserve better than their current facility, and I plan to do all I can ensure our veterans are treated fairly.”