05.22.14

Senate VA Committee GOP Request Oversight Hearings

WASHINGTON, D.C. -Today, U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans'Affairs, Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), John Boozman (R-AR), and Dean Heller (R-NV) 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 critical that the Committee begin to conduct aggressive oversight to fully understand the problems that the Department of Veterans Affairs faces today. Many of these problems have already been identified through numerous reports by the Government Accountability Office, the VA Office of Inspector General, and the Office of Special Counsel.

Minority members and staff have requested multiple oversight hearings since the beginning of the 113th Congress with none of the requested hearings taking place and no response. Oversight is a critical part of the mission of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, which was echoed by the President's remarks yesterday: Congress "has an important oversight role … not just to address the current controversies, but to make sure we're doing right by our veterans across the board."

The minority members of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs request a swift response and the scheduling of several oversight hearings as soon as possible.

"It is obvious from the recent VA scandals that the Department desperately needs vigorous oversight," said Senator Burr. "It is our mission as a committee to provide oversight and yet the Chairman has chosen to ignore requests for hearings. My fellow minority members and I hope that this letter will be heard and acted on swiftly."

"From the unacceptable backlog of disability claims to the allegations of inappropriate scheduling practices leading to delayed care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has persistently failed to meet the needs of our nation's veterans," said Senator Isakson. "It is time for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to perform the aggressive oversight necessary so that we uphold our commitment to our veterans, especially when we know demand on the VA will only grow."

"From claim backlogs to delayed care, it is painfully evident the VA is in need of reform and the bright light only transparency can bring," Senator Johanns said. "It's our duty as a county and as members of this committee to ensure our military heroes are receiving the best care available. In light of recent allegations that potentially led to the deaths of veterans, this department has certainly earned a spot under a very intense oversight microscope."

"Our veterans too often face hurdles to receiving the care and the attention they need. It is the responsibility of Congress to determine what can be done to resolve these problems. That begins with rigorous oversight. Our veterans are relying on us to accomplish this basic role and I am willing to work with my colleagues in both chambers to achieve this," Senator Boozman said.

"We have a duty to make certain our veterans receive the highest quality of care they deserve from a Department of Veterans Affairs worthy of their service and sacrifice. As the instances of systemic dysfunction and lack of leadership at the VA continue to mount, we do not need more damage control - we need to eliminate the damage being done to our nation's veterans. These hearings are an important step toward resolving the problems at the VA and keeping our promise to those who served our country," said Senator Moran.

"When our men and women in uniform volunteered their service, our nation promised them important benefits. As a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I believe that we must do more to make sure this promise is kept," said Senator Heller. "I hope that our colleagues on the Committee will allow for oversight hearings that will help hold the VA accountable. Time and again, we have asked our men and women in uniform to answer the call to duty, and they do so without hesitation. Ensuring veterans receive disability benefits and quality VA medical care in a timely manner is the least we can do to thank them for their service."

The full text of the letter is below:

May 22, 2014

The Honorable Bernie Sanders

Chairman

Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

418 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Sanders,

At the beginning of the 113th Congress, the minority staff provided your office with a number of possible oversight hearing topics on ongoing issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To date, none of the hearings we requested have occurred. In fact, during this Congress, the Committee has held only seven oversight hearings, which did not even begin to address the issues facing the Department.

Mr. Chairman, the problems that have been identified through Government Accountability Office, VA Office of Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, and now countless media reports warrant significant, comprehensive oversight action from this Committee.

As we heard from the President yesterday, Congress "has an important oversight role … not just to address the current controversies, but to make sure we're doing right by our veterans across the board." As we have previously stated, the Committee has held a limited number of hearings on the issues faced by the Department. With the recent revelations and investigations occurring at nearly 30 facilities, it is even more critical that this Committee conducts the necessary oversight to begin to take urgently needed action on reforms at VA.

We are writing today to request that the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs hold oversight hearings on the following topics:

Overall effectiveness of the Veterans Health Administration structure; VA's construction program; Mechanisms used to determine quality of VA healthcare; Effectiveness of VISN headquarter operations and structure; Overall effectiveness of the Veterans Benefits Administration structure; Claims backlog initiatives including the effectiveness of the Quick Start Program and two-year old claims initiative; Treatment of whistleblowers; Integrity of VA's data and metrics; Uses of bonuses and performance awards; Moving VA into the 21st Century, including the future of VistA and VA's scheduling package; Future priorities of the VA; VA's rating schedule; and, Employment programs at VA.

It is clear to us that the Department needs vigorous oversight to correctly identify the problems and foster top-down reforms. It is further clear to us that this Committee cannot inform its legislative efforts without gaining as full an understanding as possible of the current shortcomings at VA.

Our nation's veterans do not deserve to wait to receive their benefits and/or needed health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This Committee must conduct aggressive oversight to ensure they receive the care they need when they need it.

Sincerely,