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Roby: Bill delivers better care for vets, easier way to fire bad VA employees

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2)
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2)

Good news: More veterans will have access to quality care and problem VA employees will be more easily terminated under VA reform legislation passed by Congress and sent to the President this week.

I’m particularly pleased that my priorities – enhancing access to local, non-VA providers, and removing legal barriers to fire problem employees – were included in the final bill.

All this year I have been telling anyone who would listen why we need to expand Patient Centered Community Care (PC3) and other programs that allow veterans to access private care if they can’t get an appointment at a local VA facility, or if they live far away.

This bill requires the VA to authorize non-VA care – including PC3 – to any enrolled veteran who cannot secure an appointment within 30 days or who lives more than 40 miles away from their VA facility. For this final bill to include such strong provisions along with funding for PC3 and other non-VA care programs is a major victory for veterans.

Of course, you also know I have been advocating for true accountability in the Veterans Affairs system. Absence of accountability at the VA has been the underlying issue for years. With this bill, Congress is granting the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to swiftly fire senior managers for poor performance or misconduct – and we expect them to use it.

Also this week, the Senate confirmed new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. Senator Richard Shelby and I wasted no time calling Secretary McDonald’s attention to the many instances of mismanagement, negligence and cover-up at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS). Immediately upon his confirmation, Senator Shelby and I asked Secretary McDonald to review these instances of mismanagement, visit CAVHCS with us, and develop a plan of action to reform the Central Alabama system.

And action is needed now more than ever. This week perhaps the strongest evidence yet has emerged that the rampant patient scheduling manipulation in Central Alabama wasn’t some misunderstanding at all, but rather a facility-led, standard operating procedure.

An audit showed that more than 57 percent of staff at the Central Alabama VA said they receive “instruction” to manipulate patient wait times. 57 percent. That’s off the charts. The national average is 12.7 percent, and the other systems nearby don’t come close.

I know that passing a bill will not transform the VA overnight. We face an uphill battle, but I’m hopeful this week marks the beginning of that fight.

I am encouraged by the tools and resources that are now at hand to ensure that we are providing efficient and quality health care services for our veterans. I look forward to working with Secretary McDonald on this endeavor and will keep you updated on the progress.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives

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