House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield gives us his week view from Capitol Hill:
"It has been a couple of tough weeks for the Veterans Affairs (VA). Two weeks ago, Secretary Robert McDonald was on NBC’s Meet the Press and hailed a new age of accountability within the organization by saying that under his watch, 'Nine hundred people have been fired since I became secretary (of Veterans Affairs). We’ve got 60 people that we fired who have manipulated wait times.' To observers, this was a refreshing statement after news hit the national stage that VA employees manipulated records that showed our veterans were receiving care when the reality was many were ignored. And in several instances, veterans died while waiting for care. Unfortunately, Secretary McDonald’s statement was not true and fears that the corrupt culture within the VA lingers on.
"Earlier this week, CBS News reported that disability claims had been stuffed in file cabinets, only to be forgotten. As only a massive, unaccountable bureaucracy can, the VA’s inefficient system would pay veterans’ benefits years after their initial claim was filed.
"The rough few weeks the VA has had in the press pales in comparison to the experience the men and women who have served our country have faced over the years.
"Last summer Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the first steps to reforming the VA. These reforms were positive first steps but as we have seen, we cannot assume that the massive bureaucracy will follow the law as Congress intended. When a bureaucracy gets so big and a culture so corrupt, it is the duty of the legislative branch to remain vigilant in its oversight.
"As we continue to carefully scrutinize the VA, we must continue to look forward for areas of improvement. This week in Washington, I spoke at the Concerned Veterans of America Summit on what I believe are the next steps to continue the job of reforming the VA. The first is that the VA should be focused on improving ways to deliver medical care, not brick and mortar structures. The number of facilities should not measure success if those facilities lack the ability to provide thorough care.
"Second, we should focus care for veterans that have disabilities from their service. My third principle for continued reform is to expand the ability for veterans to choose private care. This was the major tenet of the CHOICE Act that was signed into law last summer. Rather than passing countless hospitals on the way to Sepulveda, why not let our veterans go to a closer, private facility for their care?
"Finally, the bureaucratic albatross that is the VA must be restructured. It is my firm belief that structure dictates behavior. Unless the structure of the VA is fixed, we can expect the unacceptable behavior of the past to continue. We cannot be afraid of taking the tradition of the past of why we created the VA, but apply it to a changing future.
"Those who serve our country in the military do so selflessly and with honor. It is our duty as a nation to respect this service by upholding our promises to them. Ensuring our VA works for their care is chief among them. I will continue to fight for our veterans and their needs before, during, and after service.