Your Washington Desk
Isakson to VA Secretary: Priority One is Implementing Reforms to Provide Accessible, Quality Care for Veterans
‘We need to … get healthcare to our veterans in the most timely and seamless way we can, and I am going to dedicate and commit my service as chairman to doing just that.’
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve accountability and transparency within the agency in order to best serve our nation’s veterans.
“We have had challenges with mental health, particularly with veterans’ suicide rates, and we have had a lot of problems with construction costs within the department, so you could look back and say this agency is a mess,” said Isakson. “We as a committee want to try and make VA and the Veterans Choice Act work as seamlessly as possible. We want the funding to be appropriate, but not in the excess. We want our attitude and the attitude of the department to be equally focused on the veteran and our veterans’ healthcare and not on ourselves.”
“The Veterans’ Choice Act was not designed to be a replacement, but it was designed to help deal with a problem that existed in the administration of delivering veterans’ healthcare — in appointments, in timeliness and in proximity to specialized care that veterans often times need,” Isakson continued.
At a committee hearing held today, Feb. 26, 2015, on the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for Veterans’ Programs, Isakson raised serious concerns over the administration’s proposal to divert funds from critical reforms currently being implemented to improve access to care at VA health centers across the country.
The president’s FY2016 budget request indicates that “[i]n the coming months, the Administration will submit legislation to reallocate a portion of Veterans Choice Program funding to support essential investments in VA system priorities in a fiscally-responsible, budget-neutral manner.”
Isakson called this proposal a “disservice to our nation’s veterans,” and called on VA Secretary Bob McDonald to make implementation of the Veterans Choice Program a top priority for the agency.
“We need to make the Veterans’ Choice Act work to address the problems that VA healthcare has experienced and get healthcare to our veterans in the most timely and seamless way we can, and I am going to dedicate and commit my service as chairman to doing just that,” said Isakson.
Isakson commended the secretary on the overall goal to change the culture of VA into a more veteran-centric organization through its newly proposed MyVA initiative, but raised concerns over the lack of funding details or data showing how this proposal would meet existing needs of veterans. He cautioned McDonald that these provisions could add an additional layer of bureaucracy on top of an already heavily bureaucratic agency.
“I am troubled by the lack of detail in some of your requests,” said Isakson. “I know there is a request for 5,000 more employees in VA over the next couple of years, and I understand why it’s being asked for, but I ask the question: …is that going to improve anything? Because more is not necessarily better in any business. In fact, sometimes more can be more cumbersome than it can be helpful.”
Isakson also questioned Secretary McDonald about his plans to address the issues surrounding the construction cost overruns and serious schedule delays plaguing a number of VA health centers across the country, including the Denver VA Medical Center. As one of his top priorities to bring oversight directly to the VA, Isakson doubled down on this commitment and announced that Denver would be one of the next in a series of site visits and field hearings conducted by the committee.
In addition to an overall lack of information in VA’s budget request, Isakson highlighted the disability claims and appeals backlogs as another critical area that must be addressed with proper oversight to make sure veterans are well served.
Video of today’s hearing is available online here.