June 11, 2014

Udall: Passage of Bill to Increase Accountability at VA a Strong Step Forward, but There's More Work to Do

Legislation will help improve access to medical care for veterans

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall welcomed the quick passage of a bipartisan bill to correct serious systemic problems that have plagued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including lack of accountability for senior administrators, long wait times for appointments and a shortage of doctors and nurses. Udall joined the Senate in voting 93-3 for the bill.

The Veterans Care Act would give the VA authority to immediately remove senior executives based on poor job performance, while maintaining due process for those employees. The bill would eliminate bonuses for senior executives, which have contributed to the use of scheduling gimmicks across the VA. It also would shorten wait times for appointments by allowing veterans to seek care in certain cases at community health centers, military hospitals or private doctors when a VA appointment cannot be made within the VA's wait-time goals or due to distance. The bill would authorize $2 billion in emergency funding to hire new doctors, nurses, and other providers to address system-wide health provider shortages that contribute to delayed access to care.

Udall issued the following statement:

"The VA is suffering from a systemic failure that is affecting the health and wellbeing of our nation's heroes, and it's clear we need action to restore transparency and accountability. This bill is a strong step forward for New Mexico veterans that will shorten wait times, give the VA the power to remove senior officials for poor performance, and ensure veterans can receive care outside the VA if they need it. I urge the House leadership to work with us to quickly finalize this bill and get it to the president so it can be signed into law.

"We made a solemn promise to our veterans to ensure they get the best care possible, and we still have a lot of work to do to ensure we're keeping that promise. Investigations into the reasons for and extent of secret wait lists and falsified information in New Mexico and nationwide are still in the early stages. I'm angered by the reports out of New Mexico this week, which have confirmed that long wait times were impacting patients' health. Late last week, I called on the Department of Justice to take a leadership role in the ongoing investigation by the Inspector General. Today, DOJ confirmed that it has opened a criminal investigation and is calling in the FBI. We need to get to the bottom of the problems in New Mexico and nationwide, and the people responsible must be held accountable."