Robert Hurt: Our veterans deserve better from the VA
Last month marked one year since we learned of the gross mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that resulted in tragic outcomes for those who have made countless sacrifices to protect our nation’s freedoms. The problems within the VA are the result of a broken system, and though our work is far from over, the House has worked to implement meaningful, structural reforms to ensure our veterans have the care they deserve.
Last year, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act created the Veterans Choice Program to allow veterans unable to obtain appointments at VA medical facilities within 30 days, or residing over 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, to receive care outside the VA system. While this program did help many veterans, it calculated the 40 mile distance using “as the crow flies” parameters, excluding many veterans who live far more than 40 driving miles from a VA care center. After pressure from Congress, the VA appropriately revised the rule to designate driving distance as the form of measurement, allowing more veterans to be included in this boundary.
While this is a step in the right direction, Fifth District veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital are still being forced to drive excessive distances to receive the care they need because Community Based Outreach Clinics are included in this criteria even though they often do not provide the type of care a veteran may need. My constituents have also expressed frustration about the outrageous amount of time they must spend on hold to talk with someone at the VA, and in some cases, they are unable to speak with anyone. And to make matters even worse, it typically takes several months to process their reimbursement for travel costs.
In the 114th Congress we have passed several pieces of legislation to further improve the treatment our veterans receive. The Clay Hunt SAV Act, which the President has signed into law, improves veterans’ access to mental health care resources. Another bill passed by the House allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs authority to rescind all or part of the amount of any award or bonus paid to an employee of the VA. The Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act authorizes the VA to enter into contracts with certified medical foster homes to expand the options available for the long-term care needs of our veterans.
While these bills are vital steps to meaningfully and structurally reform the delivery of care to our veterans, they are not enough. Congressional oversight is essential to effectively implement these necessary reforms. Next week, the House Veterans Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing to evaluate the progress of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act.
We will not be successful in this mission unless we also continue to demand accountability and change from the VA so it returns to a culture of duty and service rather than one of bureaucracy and paper-pushing. If we remain dedicated to the solemn obligations we owe to the men and women that have given life and limb for our nation, we can provide a level of care and service worthy of the tremendous sacrifice our veterans made for the cause of freedom.
We take our responsibility to serve all Fifth District Virginians very seriously, and we encourage all veterans having issues with the VA to contact our office if we may be of help in any way. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve Virginia’s Fifth District veterans, I remain fully committed to ensuring that our citizens who have given the most receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.
If you need any additional information or if we may be of assistance to you, please visit my website at hurt.house.gov or call my Washington office: (202) 225-4711, Charlottesville office: (434) 973-9631, Danville office: (434) 791-2596, or Farmville office: (434) 395-0120.
Robert Hurt represents Virginia’s Fifth District in Congress.
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