Jul 29 2014

Shelby Urges VA Nominee to Address Department's Systemic Problems

WASHINGTON, DC, Tuesday, July 29, 2014 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor urging the nominee for Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, to address the Department’s systemic problems.  Shelby specifically discussed the findings in the VA’s recent nationwide audit regarding the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and called for corrective action.

The full text of Shelby’s remarks is below:   

M. President, I rise today in support of Robert McDonald’s nomination for Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It is my hope that Robert McDonald will bring a renewed commitment, energy, and acumen to address the Department’s systemic problems.   

The allegations against the Department of Veterans Affairs are incredibly serious.  Therefore, M. President, I rise today in defense of our nation’s veterans.  Our veterans have put themselves in harm’s way to defend us, and I think it is only right that we do everything in our power to defend them and their interests when they return home. 

Allegations that veterans were not only denied timely access to care, but that scheduling delays, secret waiting lists, and lost records may have led to veteran deaths are totally unacceptable.  These allegations of mismanagement and cover-up at the VA are beyond disturbing.  They are sickening.  And, they need to be corrected.  And, they need to be corrected immediately.

M. President, our veterans deserve better.  Our veterans have earned these benefits through their dedicated service and sacrifice to our nation, and the VA must correct these problems – not just study them.  It is my hope that Robert McDonald will actively work to address these tremendous challenges.   

According to the VA’s recent nationwide audit, new patients using the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System waited an average of over 74 days to see a primary care doctor.  That is nearly three times greater than the national average of 27.4 days for new patient wait times.  I look forward to working with the new VA Secretary to review the Department’s plan to initiate corrective action, both in Alabama and across our nation. 

M. President, while the VA’s wait time statistics are certainly disturbing, the problem unfortunately does not end there.  Allegations that VA employees may have submitted false records to justify their own receipt of performance bonuses suggest the possibility that the deceit and mistreatment I have described may also have been compounded by fraud.

In May, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski and I wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and called on the Department of Justice to begin appropriate criminal and civil investigations into allegations of misconduct at the VA.  We have also recommended that the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill provide the resources for these investigations.  The Veterans Affairs and Military Construction Appropriations bill provides an additional $5 million to investigate VA scheduling practices.  And, legislation introduced this week requests an additional $17 billion to improve the VA over the next three years.     

While I commend these efforts to initiate corrective action, I believe that it is only a starting point.  A lack of funding is not the mainspring of the VA’s troubled past.  I look forward to working with my colleagues and with the new VA Secretary to ensure that these problems at the VA are rectified immediately before any more veterans are adversely affected. 

Solving the issues at the VA has never been more imperative than it is today, as American servicemembers continue to risk their lives each day for our nation.  Support for our Armed Forces must never waiver, and it must be just as strong when they return home.  Who will fight our wars in the future if we do not prove that we respect our veterans today? 

Veterans have risked their lives for the freedoms we all enjoy and thus should receive the care they most assuredly deserve.  Defending veterans’ access to timely medical care today is the very least we can do because they defended us first.

I yield the floor.