Update from Congressman Pete Gallego: Hold the VA accountable

As a kid, I remember the phrase “It takes an act of Congress” being used to describe anything that took a long time or was extremely difficult. As an adult and a member of Congress, I learned firsthand what that means. 

Yet, last week just before Memorial Day, I voted for a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it easier to terminate employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. It passed 390 to 33.  It was remarkably fast action in a body known to go slower than most snails.

The scandal regarding practices at the VA has the Congress’ full attention. It certainly has mine. Our district has an extremely high population of veterans. The desire to serve our nation is a common factor that binds people from the bigger cities with people from the smallest towns. These veterans are both young and old – and they deserve the best medical treatment available from the most technologically advanced nation in the world.

The Veterans Affairs Management and Accountability Act of 2014 gives the VA greater authority to remove and fire employees due to poor or inappropriate performance. While the vast majority of VA employees are dedicated public servants – and many of them are veterans, too – passage of the bill with overwhelming and bipartisan support sends a clear message: Veterans matter. 

Misrepresenting or concealing facts is wrong and will not be tolerated. Any VA leaders who ordered bad patient scheduling practices should be fired.  

 Playing with the lives and health of those who served our country is unacceptable. Period. Recent reports about questionable scheduling practices raise criticism of the VA to a whole new level. Frankly, if these allegations are true, there are not enough negative words to sufficiently describe the actions of certain few employees at the VA.

 From day one in Congress, veterans and our military have been a priority for me. I am working diligently to get answers. Since this situation began, Congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and I have pressed the VA in writing for answers regarding its routine practices. 

I also joined in with numerous colleagues across the aisle in asking Secretary Shinseki written questions about wait lists, the care, and procedures of the VA. I’ve called for a full-fledged audit of VA patient scheduling practices across the country.

 Like many of us, my dad was a veteran of World War II. The VA is designed to serve those of our parents and sons and daughters who have served our nation. This isn’t about other families – this is about all our families. Every veteran is a hero – and our government must respect the service and sacrifices of each and every one of our heroes. 

There is much work ahead. As a new member of Congress, I am constantly frustrated by the size, indifference, and inefficiency of the federal bureaucracy across a myriad of agencies and departments. However, the allegations about the VA are in a league of their own. If these allegations against the VA are true, there will be hell to pay. Stay tuned.

 U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego, D-Alpine, represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.