President Lincoln declared in his second inaugural address that our nation had a duty “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The words are immortalized on plaques at the entrance to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Washington. In fact, it has become the VA’s motto. Sadly, the VA is failing to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise.
Accessing the VA health system has been too difficult and time consuming for too long. The backlog in disability claims—especially in Indiana—is lengthy. The quality of care at some VA facilities has been questionable. But questions about the competence of VA personnel and the quality of the care they provide are now being replaced by more serious ones about whether crimes have been committed and veterans have been harmed as a result.
The allegations are shocking. Reports indicate that as many as 40 veterans may have died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA. Whistleblowers from around the country are coming forward with first-hand accounts of secret waiting lists and delayed or denied care at other VA hospitals. There appears to be a growing culture of misconduct within the VA for which there must be accountability.
That’s why I supported the VA Management Accountability Act, which the House just passed, to make it easier to fire or demote senior leaders who are failing to live up to their responsibilities to our servicemen and women. The bill is designed to foster a culture of accountability and transparency at the VA to replace the current culture of bureaucracy and secrecy that seems to exist now.
But that’s not enough. The VA needs to be examined, from top to bottom, to determine what is working—and what isn’t. Persistent problems must be fixed, inefficient processes and ineffective practices must be overhauled, and inappropriate or criminal behavior must be stopped. Those responsible for these failures should be held accountable.