It’s time for change at the VA

Published 6:09 pm Tuesday, June 10, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

The crisis at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is a tragedy. Brave men and women died waiting for care that never came from the country they sacrificed so much to defend. But the problems represented at this agency are longstanding.

While it is true that this president inherited many of the systemic issues present in the VA bureaucracy today, I believe he has failed to take on the status quo and implement reform necessary to root out issues that have been allowed to take hold. 

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Last week, I stopped at the VA clinic in Monroeville to visit with Dr. Al Nettles. Clinics like these provide a great service in the community and I have been pleased to hear many good reports from this facility. However, I remain seriously concerned about the regional VA in Biloxi.

Reports of substandard care and limited access for our veterans are frustrating for many veterans in southwest Alabama who depend on this facility. That’s why I sent a letter with my colleague from Mississippi, Steven Palazzo, demanding answers on care standards and wait times to ensure that our veterans are receiving the quality of care they have earned. My office is in constant communication with the VA in Biloxi to help fix problems however we can.

We know that change will not come overnight to the VA. It has taken years and several Administrations to get us to this point. But this is our moment to take action.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller has advocated for a voucher system as a way to guarantee accessibility to care for veterans who have languished on waiting lists. This is an approach I am seriously considering as we continue to look for practical answers that will expedite care and improve access right away for veterans languishing on long wait lists.

Whatever the solution turns out to be, we know we have plenty of hard work before us. I believe the president was right to accept the resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki — I only wish he had demanded it sooner. I called for the secretary’s resignation because I believe change starts from the top, and the president needed to take accountability for these failings.

Whoever Secretary Shinseki’s ultimate replacement is, he or she will need to have an aggressive approach and a willingness to work with Congress to put in place lasting reforms so this never becomes an issue again.

That’s what our veterans deserve, and that’s what I’ll fight for.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.