Congress has 535 diverse voices â€“ both Senators and U.S. Representatives.
Polarization and dysfunction are now considered normal. It is rare for Congress to agree on much these days â€“ something that frustrates me each day.
However, the recent problems plaguing the VA offer an opportunity for the left, right and center to unite and address the chronic shortcomings at this critical agency.
Indeed, Republicans and Democrats are now working to find long-term solutions to the VAâ€™s challenges. Thatâ€™s a good sign.
The VAâ€™s mission is to look after our veteransâ€™ health care needs. Congressâ€™ mission must be to show the same dedication and devotion to veterans as they have shown to our country.
The problems at the VA must not be allowed to become a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an American issue.
A recent report indicates that some facilities maintained secret wait lists designed to hide systematic failures. Additionally, a VA audit that examined 713 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics indicates more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting for more than 90 days for an initial appointment. Over the past 10 years, 64,000 people who enrolled in the VAâ€™s health care system never had appointments.
Imagine a veteran who narrowly escapes danger while serving overseas only to die waiting for an appointment at the VA. What an irony.
Last week, I met with Acting VA Secretary Sloan D. Gibson at Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio. During meeting, joined by Congressmen Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) and JoaquÃn Castro (D-San Antonio), I made it clear that while itâ€™s very important to get to the root of the problem, itâ€™s just as important that veterans currently seeking care receive it — and fast.
Here are my thoughts on resolving the VA issue once and for all: (1) get veterans off wait lists, get them appointments, and get them visits with doctors and follow up care. Veteransâ€™ health care is my no. 1 priority â€“ always. (2) Letâ€™s listen to what veterans are saying about health care. For years, veterans groups have warned Congress about problems at the VA. Now Congress must step up to the plate. (3) Letâ€™s figure out how this all happened so that it will never happen again.
Recently, the House passed a bill that makes it possible to hold any VA official who failed veterans more easily accountable. The bill will allow us to separate those employees who really care about veterans from those who manipulated the system for their own reasons or benefit. The Senate must act now.
Both House and Senate must also provide enough funding for the VA to do its job.
Going forward, the VA must do a better job of outreach to veterans. Iâ€™m working on several proposals to provide service to veterans who live in rural areas or far from a VA facility.
We must also improve our technology so that delivery of care is coordinated and more efficient. Right now, electronic medical records from active military facilities in the Department of Defense are not compatible with the system used by the VA.
Lastly, my staff and I have worked hard to recover over $1 million owed by the VA to constituents of 23rd District of Texas. While Iâ€™m proud of our work, it shouldnâ€™t take a congressman to get a veteran his or her money. The VA must provide better service and catch up on its backlog.
All of the above will require Congress to work hand in hand with the President and the VA. I know it can be done. In fact, it must be done.
I wonâ€™t give up on those that fought for us. I wonâ€™t stop until every veteran who seeks health care has it. Then – and only then — can we say “Mission Accomplished.â€
For more information on U.S. Rep. Gallego, visit www.gallego.house.gov.
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.