Lawmakers keep VA failures front and center

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As a recent spate of news about neglect and fraud in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs continues to develop, a handful of Alabama Congressional delegates are continuing to keep VA issues on the front burner.

“I am outraged that our veterans are still being made to wait for medical care,” U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell recently told Alabama Today. “Providing high-quality care and benefits to our nation’s veterans is one of our most fundamental obligations, and we must do more to live up to that promise. I proudly sponsored the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which President Obama signed into law.

“This new law has helped VA medical centers across the country hire more physicians and enabled some veterans to seek private care, yet problems still persist at underperforming facilities like the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in Montgomery and Tuskegee, Alabama.

“We heard more than enough excuses. Our nation’s heroes should not be made to wait for quality care, and to ask them to do so violates our core principles. We need a permanent director who is ready – and willing – to do more for our veterans.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne has also taken action to rectify much longer than average wait times at the Central Alabama VA. He recently introduced legislation that would create a new clinic in Mobile to ease the long backlogs currently on the books at VA providers, but has also said the problems run deep and deserve a thorough remediation at the administrative level.

“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 last week. “The current Mobile clinic is outdated and too small to adequately meet the needs of our area’s veterans.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.”

Sen. Richard Shelby also spoke with Alabama Today on the matter, indicating that VA scrutiny is a concern in the upper chamber of Congress as well.

“It is extremely disappointing and unacceptable that long wait times continue to plague the Central Alabama VA,” said Shelby in a statement special to Alabama Today. “Our veterans in Alabama and across the country deserve better, which is why I will continue to press the VA to correct these issues and fight to ensure that our veterans receive timely and effective health care services.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Calhoun County in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District is working on the issue from his position on the coveted House Armed Services Committee. He says he is displeased to say the least about the way Alabama vets are receiving short shrift from those whose job is to serve them.

“The mistreatment at these VA facilities, including in Alabama, of our men and women who have served our country in uniform is unconscionable to me,” told Alabama Today. “Our Veterans deserve the very best at these facilities and I hope these wrongs will be made right.”

Last week we chronicled U.S. Rep. Martha Roby‘s efforts on VA care access. She was one of the first high-ranking Alabama officials to speak with whistleblower Richard Tremaine, who recently testified before Congress about a years-long pattern of cover ups and denial of responsibility on the part of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System where he is associate director.

“That culture has festered at Central Alabama for years,” Roby 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.”

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