OK Veterans, it’s time to warm up your computers and to get on your phones to encourage the U. S. Senate to finish what it appears to have accomplished with bipartisan support, after long and difficult discussions. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders announced late last Thursday afternoon that a sweeping and bipartisan bill to address and “fix” several of the issues affecting the VA and its care for veterans had been agreed to. Now it is time to get the veteran community to put the pressure on them to finish the job and then to send it to the House of Representatives for a swift approval.
According to the Washington Post, this bill would address some of the most troubling issues with the VA system that surfaced as a result of the discovery of several deaths at the Phoenix VA hospital due to fraud and mismanagement:
“The agreement would allow veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or who are experiencing long wait times to seek care at other government or private facilities. Senators also propose providing $500 million for hiring more doctors and nurses to meet growing demand worldwide.”
This bipartisan agreement that was led by Sen. Bernie Sanders an Independent who calls himself a socialist, and Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona. According to this bipartisan agreement, veterans would be allowed to “choose to visit private facilities that accept Medicare, other federally-qualified health centers or medical facilities, Indian Health Centers, or medical facilities run by the Defense Department,” rather than VA facilities. It would also “authorize the VA to sign leases for 26 major medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.”
Protecting vets? Or protecting their own?
One very important detail, which the House has already passed and that has support among veteran’s groups, is that the bill would “allow the VA secretary to immediately fire or demote senior officials tied to mismanaged or delayed medical care for veterans.” This is a bit problematic in that the government is concerned for its own career government employees. It seems that if you are a career government employee who is fired for these very serious mismanagement decisions and actions, these illegal and immoral behaviors, you are still going to somehow get your entitled due process.
Rather than face a criminal court, the bill provides that they will have a seven-day period in which to appeal the firing decision. Why they should not receive their due process in a court of law for such behaviors (like anyone else who gets caught performing fraudulent behavior), I still am unable to fathom, but that’s government for you. If the government unions try to fight this, they will be on the wrong side of this issue. They, too, must be held to the fire to remember that it is about the veterans first, not them.
A fragile time
From this veteran’s perspective, this is a tenuous and fragile time in the legislative process. There is still time for both parties to propose amendments, and it still has to go back to the House of Representatives for final approval there, before it goes to the President to be signed. While this is a rare bipartisan success these days in the Senate, it is a hopeful sign. While these professional politicians are the biggest sources of collective heartburn and high blood pressure for Americans and, in this case, veterans, we have to take a “front lines” attitude with them at this delicate time to make sure that they follow through on their obligations to our nation’s veterans in this matter. Though they are all creatures accustomed to the rare airs inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C. they still respond to mass outcries and determined efforts from their constituencies. They want to get re-elected after all. So we need to be very active on the phones and on our computers over the next few days, in order to pressure them to do this before the leave on their August break.
Veterans, make your voices heard. Now is the time to act. If we don’t, this could slide onto the back burner faster than a Senator or Representative on the way to the doors for a vacation.
Image Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, second from right, and former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, third from right, sit down for a Congressional roundtable discussion hosted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski to discuss the VA claims backlog in Washington, D.C., May 22, 2013. (DoD Photo by Glenn Fawcett, CC BY 2.0)