Last May’s problems at the Nation’s Veteran Hospitals shocked the nation. The news of covered up delay of services and falsified records troubled Americans, especially when we learned that deaths could have been attributed to those delays.
Although the President and Congress are seriously looking into the ways to fix the Veteran Hospital Problems, this is an election year. Candidates are political creatures and some are trying to benefit from the scandal.
In February, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sponsored “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014” (S. 1982). The bill “Amends federal veterans provisions to revise or add provisions concerning medical services and other benefits provided to veterans and/or their dependents through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).” (Thomas, Library of Congress). It would add $20 billion to the Department of Veteran Affairs in the areas of health care, Veteran Employment Trainings and Career Transition Services. It also would repeal a portion of a bill that Rep. Reed supported that cut Veteran’s retirement benefits.
The Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative research think-tank, opposed Sander’s bill, mainly because of cost and the increased services for Veterans. They made it known that the Senators’ votes will be counted in the Foundation’s rating system. A group of republican senators “filibustered” this bill, which in the U.S. Senate means a final vote can only be taken if 60 Senators agree. “This bill proposes to spend more than we agreed to spend,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). The vote on the bill was 56-41; it failed to reach the 60 vote standard.
On Sunday, June 1, Martha Robertson was in Seneca Falls at the “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” event. Martha commented on the VA Hospital problems, “We see that it’s not a matter of the care that they get once they get access to the care. There’s no question that they are getting quality care and responsive care once they’re in the system. This is a problem of decades of underfunding the system altogether.”
Right-wing bloggers have been attacking Martha ever since about that statement. The bloggers claim that there has been ample funding for the VA Hospitals. Rep. Reed agreed with the bloggers when he said,“The VA is fully funded. They’re actually up 256% in their funding levels. Their staffing levels are up 52%. Last year they ended the year with $450 million left in the bank at the end of the year,” WETM-TV reported on June 4. The same article added the Reed blames the VA problems stems on the Single-Payer health care system the VA uses.
The USA Today pointed out the VA “is grossly overloaded with veterans under treatment and seeking to get through the door.” There are 400 openings for doctors, the top pay for VAS doctors is less than half the median for doctors in the private sector.”
After the news about the Veteran Hospitals’ delays swept the nation in May, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. John McCain introduced bipartisan legislation, S.2450, “The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014″. The following is a partial list of what is included in the new bill. :
- Authorize leases for 26 new medical facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico.
- Designate funds for hiring more VA doctors and nurses to provide quality care in a timely manner.
- Expand existing VA authority to refer veterans for private care. The two-year program also would offer veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic could seek help at private health care facilities.
This bill was approved in the Senate, 93-3.
Our Congressman, Rep. Tom Reed, in his June 13 emailed “Update”, reported that “I cosponsored this week’s Veterans Access to Care Act, a bill requiring the VA to offer non-VA care to enrolled veterans who experience long wait times or live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility. Regardless of where veterans live, it’s only fair they receive timely care close to home. If the VA can’t provide care, veterans need the flexibility to seek care elsewhere.”
Rep. Reed did not take a bold step by co-sponsoring this bill. He joined 157 other House members who co-sponsored it. The Veterans Access to Care Act (VACA) was approved in the House, 426-0!
The Senate and the House are organizing a conference to compromise on the differences in their bills. The Senate has set their committee members, the House has not yet.
Rep. Reed has yet to explained why he c0-sponsored a bill to provide needed funds to the Veteran Administration for health care when he recently stated that the VA was already fully funded. The facts didn’t change from June 4 to June 9, but his actions did. I have to believe that word got from the Republican leaders to the rank and file that not funding the Veterans’ needs is a losing issue. A congressman should have figure that out by himself.
Using our veterans as a political wedge shows how desperate some candidates, including Tom Reed, are. The Veterans deserve better. We deserve better.