On January 8, President Obama drove right past the Phoenix VA— the medical center at the heart of a nationwide Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal—without taking a single moment to visit the facility and the veterans there.
At the time, Republicans in Congress and the veterans community criticized the President’s decision to bypass Phoenix VA:
It appears the President got the message as he is going back to Arizona tomorrow and will visit the scandal-plagued medical center.
- “The President’s visit comes two months after he was criticized by Congress and veterans groups for not talking with Arizona veterans during a visit to the state, where he previewed his housing policies. Some members of Congress slammed Obama because he drove right past the hospital without stopping during that visit.” (The Washington Post, 3/10/15)
- “On Jan. 8, veterans advocacy groups and some members of Congress rebuked Obama because his motorcade — en route to a press conference at a nearby school — passed the Phoenix hospital without stopping. Some veterans had gathered outside the building in protest.” (AZ Central, 3/10/15)
- “President Barack Obama will visit the Arizona veterans’ hospital that prompted an overhaul of veterans’ health care and led to the resignation of the VA secretary, his first visit since reports of mismanagement surfaced nearly a year ago…. Obama drew criticism in January for traveling to Phoenix but not stopping at the VA hospital.” (Associated Press, 3/10/15)
During his visit, the President should recommit to fixing the VA by making sure the reforms Congress already passed are being properly implemented.
For years, Congress has worked to investigate claims that the VA was fundamentally failing our veterans and fix the problems in the VA health system. But it wasn’t until after reports of the problems in the VA hit the newsstands that the White House engaged. Congress moved into action, though, and passed Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability in July of last year. The law gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs greater authority to remove employees, expands veterans’ access to private care, and more. The House passed this on top of a series of other bills to aid our veterans.
Unfortunately, the reforms passed by Congress are not being effectively implemented by the Administration. The paper disabilities claim backlog won’t be fixed by the target goal of the end of this year, the Administration doesn’t seem intent upon expanding veterans’ access to private care, whistleblowers are still being silenced, and few employees at the center of the VA scandal have been fired.
It’s safe to say that the VA is a long way from full reform.
It’s long past time for a 21st century VA unshackled by the old ideas that more bureaucracy, more government, and more money will solve today’s problems. If we aren’t complacent with the status quo and put care for veterans at the center of the VA, we can accomplish real reform for our veterans. Congress and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will continue to hold the VA accountable because there is no time left to keep driving past the problems.