By US Rep. Lloyd Doggett
Ensuring our veterans prompt access to quality healthcare has been one of my top priorities since first coming to Congress. In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced regarding inaccurate data regarding appointment wait times and other efforts to hide the true time it takes for a veteran to receive needed treatment. At the first report of wrongdoing concerning appointment delays, I met immediately with House Veterans Affairs Ranking and called on the VA to remove anyone who engaged in unacceptable conduct.
With my support, the House recently approved legislation to make it easier to hold senior Veterans Administration executives accountable. And some of them have a lot of accounting to do. But the vast majority of VA employees, many of them vets themselves, work hard and care deeply about serving veterans.
I am deeply concerned by the reports of harassment of these whistleblowers. My office is working to ensure that the information whistleblowers and potential whistleblowers have helps achieve prompt action. Any attempt to chill whistleblowers is outrageous. VA management should focus on improvement, not harassment. All those with information should be encouraged to come forward. Whether Dr. Joseph Spann, with whom my office has been working since before his complaints became public, or the other whistleblowers who have contacted me, I will be working to see that each is protected and that action is taken against anyone engaged in retaliation. On Monday, the VA released a Nationwide Access Audit, which revealed a lack of timely care for too many veterans. While Texas-specific information is limited, complaints about our local facilities have been “flagged” for further investigation. For those who have served under our flag, we must end the scheduling “negative practices identified,” protect whistleblowers who exposed the facts, and provide reinforcements to the many VA employees who are committed to quality care for our veterans.
I appreciate the continuing advice from local vets I receive and want to hear from anyone who has experienced problems. Working together, we can ensure prompt improvement, but we must not allow those who do not believe in maintaining our veterans health system to use these incidents to undermine it. Let’s fix it, not break it.
Veterans have earned more than prompt access to quality healthcare and we must protect the benefits earned on the battlefield and serving here at home. After years of cuts, keeping rigid caps on federal spending can only harm our national security. This is why I offered an alternative plan, which would have avoided changes in retirement and further reductions in funding for our national defense by closing corporate tax loopholes. We should not cut compensation for our troops while giant corporations can pay their lobbyists more than they pay in taxes. They should contribute their fair share to providing for the servicemembers who defend our country.
I will be in Lockhart for Chisholm Trail Roundup on this Saturday and would welcome any veteran or family member of a veteran to share their personal stories or concerns about VA care they have received. It is never enough to extol the contribution of those in uniform in only words, we must do so in deeds. The needs of those who serve do not end on the battlefield, and neither should our obligation to them.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and Budget Committee.
Editor’s Note: The Lockhart Post-Register has been closely following the so-called “VA Scandal,” and is attempting to determine whether any local veterans have been impacted by wait times or care withheld at an area VA medical facility. If you believe that you or someone you know has been impacted by the allegedly questionable actions of VA administrators or employees, please contact us at (512) 398-4886 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. —kb