Legislative Update from Senator Richard Burr

This week, I continued to work along with some of my colleagues on addressing the serious problems facing the VA and the Veterans Health Administration. On Tuesday, Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and I introduced S. 2362, legislation that would prohibit the payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) through Fiscal Year 2015.

It is appalling and totally unacceptable that the VHA, which is being scrutinized by Congress and the media for a string of national scandals, is giving out bonuses. It is totally inconceivable that the Veterans Health Administration can justify rewarding themselves while they fail our veterans. It is my hope that the Senate will swiftly adopt this legislation so that such gross misconduct is no longer rewarded at taxpayer expense. To read the full statement on S. 2362, click here.

Also on Tuesday, the Office of Inspector General (IG) released a report on the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Quick Start Program. The Quick Start program was designed to help service members smoothly transition to civilian life by beginning the disability claims process for veterans prior to their separating from the Armed Forces. However, this new IG report shows that numerous factors -- such as ineffective use of resources, inadequate training, and insufficient program controls -- led to problems with the timeliness and quality of VA's decisions on these claims. The IG found that the VBA accurately processed only 69% of Quick Start claims during 2013. That is 29% lower than VA's 98% goal and well below VA's reported quality measures. In light of last week's hearing regarding the accuracy and trustworthiness of Veterans Health Administration's wait time data, I question the Administration's claim that the VA disability claims backlog is improving. The findings in this report are symptomatic of the ongoing, pervasive problems at the VA. Congress must conduct aggressive oversight to make sure that the VA is treating our veterans with the respect that they deserve. To read IG's full report, clickhere.

On the topic of oversight, this week minority members of the Senate VA Committee and myself signed a letter calling on Chairman Sanders of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs to hold several oversight hearings on numerous topics including, but not limited to, the Veterans Health Administration, the quality of VA healthcare, and the integrity of the VA's data and performance metrics. It is obvious from the ongoing VA scandals and the report above that the Department desperately needs vigorous oversight. It is our mission as a committee to provide oversight; yet the Chairman has chosen to ignore reasonable requests for hearings. My fellow minority members and I hope that this letter will be heard and oversight hearings will be scheduled immediately. To read the full text of the letter sent to Chairman Sanders, clickhere.

This week, President Obama held a press conference addressing the issues within the Veterans Administration. I listened with great interest to the President's remarks on the unfolding VA scandals. Quite frankly, I am shocked that the President feels he needs to wait for the results of yet another investigation before he takes action. As we discussed in our committee hearing with the Secretary last week, there are at least four years' worth of reports from the Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Special Counsel, and Office of the Medical Investigator highlighting the problems within the Veterans Health Administration. Yet, we still can't connect the dots without a report on Phoenix? Veterans are tired of waiting for the next report, the next investigation, the next media "Breaking News Alert." VA is broken, Mr. President. Veterans don't want the appearance of leadership on this issue. They want action. To watch the President's full press conference, clickhere. For the transcript of this video, click here.

On Wednesday, I introduced legislation to correct a mistake by the Census Bureau and the Office of Management of Budget (OMB) that is hurting eastern North Carolina. A year ago, OMB issued new rules that arbitrarily separated Brunswick County from the Wilmington metropolitan area. This separation has not only led to an understatement of the size of North Carolina's economy, but hurt economic development in the area. Everybody in North Carolina knows that Brunswick County is part of the greater Wilmington area. Instead of mindlessly applying bureaucratic rules, the Administration needs to address what reality looks like for people in North Carolina. If passed, this legislation would settle the issue by requiring the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to consider Brunswick County to be part of the same metropolitan statistical area as Wilmington, North Carolina-- just like it always has been. To read the bill text, clickhere.

Be sure to keep an eye out for a special edition of my weekly newsletter, and spend time this weekend reflecting on the real meaning of Memorial Day. As we gather with our families, give thanks and honor to those who gave their lives for our freedom. I wish you all a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.