Coburn: Veterans Shouldn't Have to Battle Bureaucracy

Saturday, 14 Jun 2014 09:57 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Veterans should not have to "do battle with bureaucracy" to get the healthcare they deserve, says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who plans to release an oversight report that exposes even more about the culture within the Veterans Affairs department.

The report, said Coburn in Saturday's GOP address, will show how, with the VA, "vets are not always a priority...and administrators manipulate both data and employees to give the appearance that all is well."

The problems with the VA, said Coburn, go far more deeply than just scheduling.

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"Just like the VA is cooking the books to make wait times appear shorter, the department is also glossing over the growing number of hospitals with poor medical outcomes," said Coburn. "In some locations, like Boston and Pittsburgh, VA care is top notch. At others, such as at Phoenix, it is very subpar."

Coburn, who is a doctor, never served in the military but says it is unacceptable for people who fought for Americans' freedom to lose their lives because of neglect from the agency that was established to take care of them.

"If you are an injured combat veteran, you should be the first in line, not the last, and your access should be guaranteed to be the best possible care," said Coburn. "There’s a simple cure to achieve these goals: Make every hospital a VA hospital...veterans should be free to choose another doctor."

The Senate has approved a bipartisan bill to allow veterans who live more than 40 miles away from a VA clinic to receive care closer to home, and to allow those who cannot receive a timely VA appointment to see another doctor outside the VA.

The bill also holds the VA accountable by making it easier to fire people who falsify data and makes disclosure of medical outcomes more transparent.

"Congress cannot just hope the problems will now go away," said Coburn. "The reason veterans’ care has suffered for so long is that Congress has failed to hold the VA accountable."

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has met only a few times in the past four years, said Coburn.

"This committee’s only responsibility is to ensure veterans are being taken care of and it has failed to do its job," he said.

Even though there have been warnings for years about problems at the VA, "some in Congress have been far more preoccupied with making new promises rather than fulfilling the promises already made."

Coburn said in his report, he will show that the VA's culture rewards employees with bonuses when they do the wrong thing, while good employees are often "bullied and face retaliation."

In addition, employees sometimes disappear from work for weeks at a time, and doctors "stop taking patients just after lunch so they can leave work."

"Construction costs of medical centers run over budget and the facilities have fallen behind schedule and still lack sufficient medical personnel to provide appropriate care," said Coburn. "Billions of dollars that could be better spent on health care are mismanaged and wasted."

And part of the solution, said Coburn, is that President Barack Obama must nominate a new VA secretary "who possesses the management skills, leadership ability and determination to correct the failings of the VA, support the thousands of great VA workers who are committed to serving our veterans and ensure timely quality care to all of those who have served bravely."

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