Seeing veterans being mistreated in the ongoing Veterans Affairs scandal as the nation honors the 70th anniversary of D-Day underscores the extent of this "national disgrace," says Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller.
"This is the biggest healthcare scandal in the VA's history, and America deserves to know whether the president is committed to doing whatever it takes to make things right," said Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, in Saturday's GOP address.
Miller delivered the address from his committee's hearing room, where he has been leading the House's efforts to investigate delays in care that have led to the deaths of at least 23 veterans.
The Florida lawmaker, in Saturday's speech, outlined both immediate and long-term steps President Barack Obama can take to fix the VA's problems. The steps were also outlined in a letter sent by House Republicans to Obama earlier this week.
"Americans are, at our core, a grateful people," said Miller. "To see all this deception and incompetence at the VA – with no accountability, no action: it is more than just a shame; it's a national disgrace."
Republicans have asked Obama to take three immediate steps, Miller said.
"First, we asked the president to support a bill the House has already passed that makes it easier
to fire senior VA executives who refuse to do their jobs," he said. "No more slaps on the wrist."
Next, Miller said, Republicans have asked Obama to order the VA to cooperate fully with committees investigating the scandal.
"The VA is currently sitting on 111 requests from our committee alone," said Miller. "It’s become a case study in how to stonewall the public, and this has to change."
Third, the president has been asked to back reforms that will require the VA to offer private care to any veteran facing unacceptable wait times for treatment.
Miller pointed out the case of Army veteran Barry Coates, who testified to the House VA committee two months ago about his difficulties in getting proper, prompt medical treatment.
Coates went to the VA in 2010 complaining about severe abdominal pain and was prescribed pain medication while a colonoscopy was delayed repeatedly.
"More than a year later,when the test was finally done, doctors discovered stage four cancer," said Miller. "A proper exam, the doctors told him, would have prompted treatment sooner."
Because of the lack of timely treatment, Coates told lawmakers, "I stand before you terminally ill."
At that same hearing, Miller said, a senior VA official confirmed the agency had the authority to send Coates and other patients like him to private care.
"When the VA allows at least 23 veterans to die when it should have done more … when we hear reports of mismanagement everywhere from Dallas to Dayton, from Chumuckla to Chicago… we know this is not a storm that will just blow over," said Miller. "The underlying culture of corruption will still be there. "
Republicans also want Obama to outline a long-term vision for "fixing what is clearly a broken system," said Miller.
The Florida representative said the House and Senate will hold Obama accountable, and thanked those who have shared their stories and spoken out about the issues.
"Together, we will honor the spirit of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy and the memory of those who never returned," said Miller.
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