I heard some great news today as Fox News reported (an Associated Press release) that I wanted to pass along to readers in case they did not hear that there’s finally a confirmation by the FBI Director James Comey, indicating that the bureau’s Phoenix branch has opened a criminal investigation of the Veterans Affairs Department, because of the mounting calls on Capitol Hill for the Justice Department to get more involved.
This announcement will finally uncover the “real issues” the veterans have faced and what they’ve gone through for a few years now. It has been a horrendous act against our veterans and this criminal investigation is welcomed. They’ve had serious issues and complaints in the past few years and there’s only been a deaf ear turned to them. When complaints were made a few years ago the problems were supposed to have been in the process of being rectified by the Veterans Affairs Department at VA hospitals but nothing ever came to fruition.
During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Comey confirmed the bureau’s involvement into the situation. Officials had previously made clear that federal prosecutors were helping in an inspector general investigation, but the probe by Phoenix FBI agents marks a new phase.
Lawmakers were stirring on a separate track to address the scandal on Capitol Hill; while the Senate was ready to vote by Thursday on a measure to make it easier for veterans who have encountered delays in getting initial visits to receive VA-paid treatments from local doctors instead. The measure similarly resembles a bill which was unanimously approved in the House on Tuesday, prompting optimism among lawmakers from both parties that a compromise version could be on its way soon to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “Maybe we can show the United States of America that people can come together on a very, very important issue and do it in rapid fashion.”
The VA’s acting inspector general, Richard Griffin, delivered a derisive report confirming allegations of excessive waiting time at VA hospitals and the inappropriate practices for scheduling appointments. The report, which followed allegations that 40 patients had died while they were waiting for care at the Phoenix hospital where employees kept a secret waiting list covering up the delays, finding that 1,700 veterans seeking treatment at the Phoenix facility were at risk of being “forgotten or lost.”
The VA, serves approximately 9 million veterans, is reeling with mounting evidence that workers had falsified reports on the wait times for medical appointments trying to mask frequent, long delays of the wait times of veterans. There was an internal audit released this week that shows more than 57,000 new applicants for care waited at least three months for initial appointments and an additional 64,000 newly enrolled vets who had requested appointments… never got them.
Eric Shinseki, VA Secretary, resigned May 30, 2014, and the situation remains as a continued embarrassment for President Barack Obama and it’s a potential political liability for congressional Democrats pursuing a re-election in November.
Harry Reid, Senate Democratic leader, said, “It’s urgent that we get this done to resolve some of the outstanding issues within the VA.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was upbeat about the prospects of the veterans’ bill and it appeared for a rare moment that he was in agreement with Reid.
McConnell said Tuesday, “We have a bipartisan veterans bill negotiated the way we used to do business in the Senate, with members of both parties, ready to go;” and adding he hopes the Senate could take up the bill “very quickly, maybe even finish it this week.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a chief author of the Senate measure, said, “I don’t think there’s a lot of major differences;” and adding, “It shouldn’t be hard for the two chambers to craft a compromise version.”
Sanders, who co-wrote the Senate Bill with McCain, stated by Senate standards, lawmakers are moving at “lightning speed.”
The legislative effort came close on the heels of a Veterans Affairs Department internal audit which was released this week as stated in a paragraph above.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and chief author of the House legislation, said, “I cannot state it strongly enough: This is a national disgrace.”
Top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, said that veterans receive excellent care at VA facilities…if they can get into the system; and adding, “As we have recently learned, tens of thousands of veterans are not getting in.”
In order to hire more doctors and nurses, the House and Senate bills each would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to hire them; and this might be easier said than done, given the fact of a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians.
The American Medical Association spoke its voice as the House was voting on Tuesday. During its annual policy meeting in Chicago, the AMA approved a resolution urging President Obama to take immediate action to enable veterans to get timely access to care from outside the VA system. Also, the nation’s largest doctors group recommended state medical societies create and to make available registries of outside physicians willing to treat vets.
The Senate bill would authorize the VA to lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico and spend $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. Whereas, the House bill does not include a specific dollar amount; but Miller stated VA would save $400 million annually by eliminating bonuses, money the agency could use for expanded care.
The House and Senate bills will allow veterans who face long delays for appointments or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to choose to get care from non-agency providers for the next two years. Some veterans currently get outside care, but the process can be cumbersome and riddled with delays, veterans and their advocates say.
The Senate bill would make it easier to fire top VA officials, although with more employee safeguards than in an earlier, House-passed bill.
This writing by Barbara Kasey Smith is based on a Fox News Report (a contributed Associated Press release).