House votes to ensure speedier care for U.S. vets

Final vote is Congress' strongest response yet to the outcry over backlogs and falsified data at Veterans Affairs facilities
Associated Press
Jun 10, 2014

United and eager to respond to a national uproar, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday to make it easier for patients enduring long waits for care at Veterans Affairs facilities to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors. Lawmakers were so keen to vote for the bill, they did it twice.

The 426-0 final vote was Congress' strongest response yet to the outcry over backlogs and falsified data at the beleaguered agency. Senate leaders plan debate soon on a similar, broader package that has also drawn bipartisan support, underscoring how politically toxic it could be to be seen as ignoring the problem.

House members didn't want to be left out of their roll call. An unusual second vote, superseding the chamber's 421-0 passage of the bill barely an hour earlier, was taken after a handful of lawmakers missed the first one. They included Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the bill's author, who said he had been in his office.

The VA, which serves almost 9 million veterans, has been reeling from mounting evidence that workers fabricated statistics on patients' waits for medical appointments in an effort to mask frequent, long delays. A VA audit this week showed that more than 57,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments.

"I cannot state it strongly enough — this is a national disgrace," Miller said during the debate.

"We often hear that the care that veterans receive at the VA facilities is second to none — that is, if you can get in," said Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, top Democrat on the committee. "As we have recently learned, tens of thousands of veterans are not getting in."

The controversy led Eric Shinseki to resign as head of the VA on May 30, but the situation remains a continuing embarrassment for President Barack Obama and a potential political liability for congressional Democrats seeking re-election in November.

Monday night, a top VA official told the veterans committee that there is "an integrity issue here among some of our leaders."

Philip Matkovsky, who helps oversee the VA's administrative operations, said of patients' long waits and efforts to hide them, "It is irresponsible, it is indefensible, and it is unacceptable. I apologize to our veterans, their families and their loved ones."

Matkovsky did not specify which VA officials had questionable integrity. The agency has started removing top officials at its medical facility in Phoenix, a focal point of the department's problems, and investigators have found indications of long waits and falsified records of patients' appointments at many other facilities.

Richard Griffin, acting VA inspector general, told lawmakers his investigators were probing for wrongdoing at 69 agency medical facilities, up from 42 two weeks ago. He said he has discussed evidence of manipulated data with the Justice Department, which he said was still considering whether crimes occurred.

"Once somebody loses his job or gets criminally charged, it will no longer be a game and that will be the shot heard around the system," Griffin said.

The VA drew intensified public attention two months ago with reports of patients dying while awaiting agency care and of cover-ups at the Phoenix center. The VA, the country's largest health care provider, serves almost 9 million veterans.

The House bill would let veterans facing long delays for appointments or living more than 40 miles from a VA facility choose to get care from non-agency providers for the next two years. Some veterans already receive outside care, but the bill would require the VA to provide it for veterans enduring delays or who live far away.

In Chicago, the American Medical Association added its voice, urging President Barack Obama to take immediate action to enable veterans to get timely access to care from outside the VA system. The nation's largest doctors group also recommended that state medical societies create and make available registries of outside physicians willing to treat vets.

VA performance bonuses have also been an issue in recent disclosures. And the House bill would ban bonuses for all VA employees through 2016 and require an independent audit of agency health care. An earlier House-passed bill would make it easier to fire top VA officials.

Miller said VA would save $400 million annually by eliminating bonuses, money the agency could use for expanded care.

Senators have written a similar bill, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said his chamber would consider "as soon as it is ready."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the chamber should debate the bill immediately, instead of first considering a Democratic measure letting borrowers refinance student loans at lower rates.

"Veterans have been made to wait long enough at these hospitals," McConnell said.

On Monday, the VA released an internal audit showing more than 57,000 new patients had to wait at least three months for initial appointments. It also found that over the past decade, nearly 64,000 newly enrolled veterans requesting appointments never got them, though it was unclear how many still wanted VA care.

The audit covered 731 VA medical facilities. It said 13 percent of scheduling employees said they'd been instructed to enter falsified appointment dates, and 8 percent used unofficial appointment lists, both practices aimed at improving agency statistics on patient wait times.

As a result, the agency said it was ordering further investigations at 112 locations where interviews revealed indications of fabricated scheduling data or of supervisors ordering falsified lists.

Sloan Gibson, the acting VA secretary, directed several steps to address Monday's audit, including a short-term boost in medical services at overburdened facilities, including using mobile units.

The agency has contacted 50,000 veterans awaiting appointments and plans to reach 40,000 others to accelerate care, letting them choose VA treatment or local non-VA health care providers.

Comments

tk

So, are they going to fund it also? That has been one of the major problems. The Republicans have refused to provide funding to the VA.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

On Face the Nation, Vanden Heuvel said, regarding the VA health care allegations, that "Congress has cut funding, has slashed funding, for veterans' benefits over these last years."

That’s incorrect, as vanden Heuvel acknowledged to PunditFact. VA health care and "veterans’ benefits" aren’t the same thing, and the pot of money that paid for VA health care has gone up every year. No reasonable definition of "cut" -- much less "slash" -- fits the data, experts told us.

We’re rating the claim she made on national television, and we rate it False.

http://www.politifact.com/pundit...

- - - - - -

If you'd like to cite anything you have that would be nice as I have above. However if you look around you'll see that there have actually been budget overcarries for the last several years to the tune of millions.

Dr. Information

tk....just another misinformed Obamabot spewing out false things. Do some dang research first before you type.

Horace Mann

Fox News ties VA woes to Obamacare, rates "Pants On Fire" at PolitiFact:

http://www.politifact.com/pundit...

jazzbo

The Republicans voted for it but I'm sure they REALLY didn't want to.

Midterm elections are coming up.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Let it be known on this day in 2014 by unanimous vote in the House of Representatives that both parties took a stand against nationalized, universal health care as being cruel, manipulative, and unable to meet the needs of even 7 million people let alone 319 million.

Bravo, House! Who'da thunk I'd every say that?!

Now, what can we do to address and scrub up the ACA which promises to do exactly the same thing that has happened in the VA, NHS, Medicare (in this case Canada's system), or even the waste/fraud/abuse that is seen in our own Medicare and Medicaid.

This is good news for everyone! Maybe we can finally have an honest discussion about health care from this "universal" decision!

jazzbo

I have a question.

Where did the VA problem morph into Affordable Health Care ?

"... both parties took a stand against nationalized, universal health care ..."

-- That's what you are referring to , right ?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Yes I was wanting to use the VA as an example of what occurs when a government nationalized health services. With the path the ACA lays out as well as the stated intentions such as our President's who pine for universal systems it wasn't a far reach.

Setting website woes to the side, how many times has a system that was promised been changed? How many nebulous statistics and manipulated databases already shown up? How many times has the ACA been used as a political lever against constituents?

That's why I said this is a good idea to "scrub up" the ACA before these problems further take root or are allowed to expand as they have in most if not all other centralized systems. There is nothing wrong with learning from experience, especially if it is our country's own.

jazzbo

You weren't prompted by FOX NEWS by any means ?

Fox News ties VA woes to Obamacare, rates "Pants On Fire" at PolitiFact:

http://www.politifact.com/pundit...

"...both parties took a stand against nationalized, universal health care as being cruel, manipulative, and unable to meet the needs of even 7 million people let alone 319 million."

--- You made a dramatic stretch , like Fox News normally does.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

When I start watching regular TV at all let alone Fox to the exclusion of all others and even then letting those people tell me what to think then you may call me prompted.

The comment you quoted was accurate. A completely nationalized system does that. Did I say the ACA was completely nationalized somewhere else? Or have I recognized it as a middleman who guarantees profit to private companies? Use the search function for your answer if you'd like.

The VA as I was saying is a cautionary tale about where the ACA could lead us eventually and as a brake check for all those who think going universal is better. When I make vacuous claims like paid pundits you are welcome to call me on it, jazz, because it shows my concerns lie within my job than my heart.

But here? I pointed to the icebergs on the horizon in hopes we can change course before too long.

jazzbo

Would you please name the country or countries that have a completely nationalized universal health care system that is cruel, manipulative, and unable to meet needs ?

A link from you would be kindly appreciated.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Sooooo...none of the other links to anything else above hasn't, to this point, answered your question? If you want to pick apart anything I have presented then please address me on the posts I spent a very long time putting together, sourcing, and already opening up for rebuttal. I don't just look for the first link I can find whose headline matches an agenda. I especially don't constantly cite Fox nor even Wikipedia either, and when I do, I don't hide its source and urge readers to use their discretion.

I provide copious amounts of proof that I believe backs up my points. You don't accept my proof then demand more. What am I to do? Would you like to throw me a link to counterpoint me? I'm always open to it, jazzbo, and I return the kindness in favor.

I have grown to enjoy our exchanges, especially because we have been civil!

jazzbo

"I provide copious amounts of proof that I believe backs up my points. You don't accept my proof then demand more."

--You have ? Where then did I miss it?

I'll tell you what...to make it easy...just name a couple countries that you have in mind.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Here, take a look at this. I actually didn't see a comment from you in case you wanted to leave it there. Or here.

Audit: More than 57,000 await first VA appointment
http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

It shows comparisons to England and Canada primarily, but you should find other European countries in the source material. Especially where Canada compares itself to other directly-self-titled universal systems. It's all submitted for your perusal and rebuttal if you wished. If you'd like I suppose you can mention places like Cuba, China, or North Korea but those may be low-hanging fruit.

Craft your response however you wish. I won't presume what it will be. Whatever it is, the ball will fairly be in my court and I'll happily reply. Thank you for the back-and-forth.

jazzbo

Ummmm-

Where is the "cruel, manipulative, and unable to meet needs" part to support your assertation that that's what happens when you have a nationalized, universal health care system ?

Waiting longer than other countries doesn't fit the critera.

(...and Canada is working on it.)

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

How about promising to the population through a health care constitution that an 18 week window will be fulfilled then having it constantly broken? What is the population to think? How many years have Canada and England been "working on it"? Utopia always seems to be just right around the corner.

If only...if only they had more money. If only they had more power. If only the population would/n't be/do X, Y, or Z. If only...

If only we had universal health care under the promise it will help everyone when it hasn't in any country that has implemented it.

That's my point.

jazzbo

No, that wasn't your point.

Your point was that a nationalized, universal health care system was cruel, manipulative, and unable to meet needs .

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

And I did with the links and my summary. When the government promises you treatment and you don't receive it how is that not cruel? How is that not manipulative? How is that not meeting the needs of the populace?

jazzbo

You are redefining words to agree with yourself.

Also , redefining reality.

jazzbo

"You have the right to believe anything you want,
but you don't have the right to make up your own truth."

Erwin Lutzer

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

cruel - willfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others.

manipulative - influencing or attempting to influence the behavior or emotions of others for one’s own purposes

meet - To satisfy (a need, for example); fulfill

reality - That which exists objectively and in fact

Were my many, many examples not factual or actually happening? Are governments failing to meet the needs of their population even with universal care? By saying universal care is better, isn't that being manipulative when it is not? Is it not cruel that, for example:

Patients facing eight-hour waits in ambulances outside A&E departments
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/healt...

jazzbo

Did you look at my links ? @

Obama: Power plant rule will shrink power prices

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

The link to the TV show? Yes and I watched it. Start to finish. I addressed it and you'll notice there wasn't so much that I disagreed with but rather wanted to know the "so what then?"

grumpy

Please quit linking proof to your claims, and asking others to do so, it is not fair as they wish to point and say blah blah party cut spending and they are all bad people. When you show proof they are wrong you stop their ability to wage war on the "other" party. It is not fair to prove what you say... when you disagree with them.

\sarcasm off/

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Sorry grumpy. I can't help but bulldoze people with my cyberbullying. It's because I have such a big ego and false sense of myself that I just can't accept an unsourced one-liner with no context as fact. I think I am over my comment quota anyway because it's not fair I am allowed to both blog and commentate here, both of which are ripe with citations. This is the Internet after, all, and so I guess I'll just have to remain anonymous and inactive in the very community, state, and country in which I live.

I hate to disappoint you, but, you know, my ego and all. That has to come first before anyone or anything else including party affiliation.

Darwin's choice

^^^^This^^^^

Licorice Schtick

At least your posts don't cover the whole screen this time. It's an improvement. You're still whining, though. Get back on point.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Guys do you see this?! Everyone, look! There's a man in a gorilla suit in the forums! You all just have to screencap this, I doubt this would ever happen again in a lifetime where instead of engaging in civil conversation about personal differences someone just dresses as an animal and waves a sex toy around!

Licorice Schtick

Wait...what? You're not saying you were the one in the gorilla suit, are you?

KURTje

E-z fix here. Take-away bennies from Senate & Congress. Pay those who served. (If Bonner still smokes charge him)

SamAdams

Welcome to Obamacare writ small but never-the-less disastrous. Now consider the VA inefficiencies, obfuscations, outright lies, the long waits and the deaths, and the rewards bureaucrats have handed themselves for performing badly and imagine what that'll be like an order of magnitude larger -- and worse. If it didn't mean more deaths, more taxpayer dollars we don't have, more debt we can't afford, and unimaginable human suffering, I'd be looking forward to it!

bucknut36

Sorry Sam Adams, but the inefficiencies, long waits and deaths are nothing new. I proudly served 23 years in the USAF and the VA was sub par under Reagan, Clinton, and the both of the Bush's. I was there and saw it first hand. This isn't a Democrat or Republican disgrace, it is a national disgrace!

grumpy

So it is the policy that is pi$$ poor and has nothing to do with the "parties". I wonder who has been pushing the idea that the "parties" are outdated and should either be ended or many more should be made?

SamAdams

No argument. My point, however, wasn't that Obama (or Bush or Clinton, etc.) are to blame for the mess the VA is in. They're all to blame for not FIXING it, but the problem itself finds its underlying cause elsewhere: Big. Government. Bureaucracy. And the mess that the VA is in is NOTHING compared to the mess that is Obamacare, and for all the same reasons.

P.S. THANK YOU for your service. You and your fellows deserve better.

bucknut36

Sam Adams thank you for the kind words, Sir.

bucknut36

One more quick vent. I had a friend who did two tours in Iraq. He developed alot of medical issues. He died while waiting for a kidney transplant. A combat veteran dies meanwhile a draft dodging COWARD like Dick Cheney gets moved to the head of the line. Thats the kind of BS that pisses me off!

Darwin's choice

Then you should really hold the guy who ran his campaign on "fixing" the VA responsible, or at least responsible for yet again doing nothing!

obama/failing

bucknut36

What I am saying is the VA is no better or worse under Obama than it was under Reagan or Clinton or any President in my lifetime. Politicians on BOTH sides use the veterans as a political football.

tk

@ Mr. Hero Zone. I don't need you to educate me about the VA. My brother was in World War 11, my husband served in Korea, I had sons in the Navy and Air Force, a grandson and his wife were in the Army and she was killed in Iraq. When did you serve? You get your information from the internet. I got mine from life.

grumpy

Then when "your life" told you that republicans, or anybody else "refused to provide funding to the VA" "your life" was wrong. That is what he showed when he linked to proof that spending rose for decades on VA healthcare. You are allowed, even encouraged to have your own opinion, but facts don't back your claims. If you wish to point out facts that show his facts are wrong you would have a leg to stand on... as is... not so much.

jazzbo

For what it's worth :

"GOP Congressman Calls for Massive Cuts in Veterans Funding"

http://www.veteranstoday.com/201...

grumpy

For what it is worth:
If you look what I wrote I said cuts in VA healthcare, not general VA funding... since this article was about VA healthcare, not general VA funding. Many folks have called for VA general funding cuts, the VA does more than healthcare and this article was about VA healthcare.

EDIT:

I suggest folks read more from this website (Veterans Today) linked above,and make up your own minds about it's content. For a shortcut here are some reviews.

http://www.sitejabber.com/review...

Also you can goggle Veterans Today reviews, Veterans Today credibility, to see what others think of it... but just go to the link and read more of the articles there and decide for yourselves.

Here is a fine example of another of their stories:

http://www.veteranstoday.com/201...

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I don't know why you are upset or why you want to make this personal (or imply I may have something against veterans?). You had made a claim the sky was green. I looked outside and brought back impartial proof it was blue. If you or your family had the VA fail to provide service, I'm sorry to hear. It seems a lot of that is going around these days.

But if we want to make it better, shouldn't we treat the actual disease and not go after supposed symptoms? You can start with writing about those same things in life to Senator Brown's office. He not only isn't Republican, but involves himself with vets often.

What I replied with could even be fuel for your fire because despite the fact of the VA's copious funding the events you experienced still happened. If you want to reform a system to better help those it serves I'll be your ally.

JACKEL

Here is some great news, who didn't see thttp://thinkprogress.org/world/2... coming ?

Contango

Saw that Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Cosgrove intelligently removed his name from consideration for heading of the VA.

The VA is a Soviet-style bureaucratic nightmare. No amt. of funding will repair a system which is basically broken beyond repair.

Approving more funding is like putting good frosting on a rotten cake.

The Big Dog's back

Are you trying to use the "Soviet" word as a scare tactic? If you are, it's not working. Just makes you sound ignorant.

Contango

You don't believe in better living through big govt. central planning?

Donegan

We know it does not scare you, You wish to live in a soviet style society where you people are respected for being "Useful idiots".

The Big Dog's back

Or could it be that you're full of it.

Donegan

We all know you Dog. And you surely typify the title of "Useful Idiot"