It’s always inspiring when communities across the United States come together on Veterans Day to express our nation’s gratitude for the brave men and women who’ve selflessly fought to defend our freedom. This day of commemoration is a vivid demonstration of the work we’re committed to doing year-round to ensure our veterans are receiving the care and respect they’ve most certainly earned.
Three years ago, our country awoke to the grim reality that our Veterans Administration health care system had become so deeply flawed that many of our nation’s heroes had died while waiting to receive care. With their names buried on secret waiting lists, it became evident that the VA system was more concerned about protecting the bureaucracy than caring for our veterans.
In the wake of these horrifying revelations, Congress began the arduous task of enacting reforms aimed at shifting the culture within the VA to no longer tolerate the mismanagement and corruption that imperiled so many veterans’ lives. While some progress has been made, ongoing reports of the VA’s shortcomings reinforce that much more needs to be done.
Numerous hearings, investigations and aggressive oversight by Congress revealed areas that required attention and were preventing veterans from getting the quality, timely care they deserve. These efforts initially led to the passage of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which established the Veterans Choice Program and the Commission on Care. By empowering our veterans to have more control over their care, Congress took the first step in prioritizing our veterans over the VA bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the program has been plagued by poor implementation and fails to deliver the true choice for veterans as Congress intended.
More recently, Congress and President Donald Trump have worked together to enact a variety of important measures to continue taking steps to improve the culture at the VA and the care for our veterans. Some common sense efforts include increased authority for the VA to hold employees accountable when they fall short of their responsibilities, to protect whistleblowers, and to extend financial certainty to the Veterans Choice Program.
But in March last year, we were alarmed to learn that seven of 12 reports released by the VA Office of Inspector General contained instances of scheduling mismanagement that had led to extended veteran wait times at the VA Health Care Systems in Texas. Due to a variety of factors including poor training, lack of supervision, and non-centralized systems, issues such as data manipulation, improper scheduling and flawed record-keeping were able to grow rampant in our own home state, to the detriment of our veterans who need us the most.
While there is no silver bullet to fix the VA’s struggles, we can, and must, continue taking steps in the right direction. This is why we introduced the VA IT Restructuring Act in both the House and Senate.
Our legislation hones in on the problems that stem from the Veteran Health Administration’s outdated software by appointing a chief information officer to oversee its modernization. By centralizing oversight and planning of the IT systems, we can avoid the mishaps that emerged due to the lack of an experienced, senior health care leader at the VHA who is focused on IT management.
The Commission on Care’s 2016 Final Report stated “it is essential for VHA to have a CIO with health care expertise and substantial experience.”
We must and will continue our collective efforts alongside the Trump administration to ensure continued improvement of care for veterans, not just here in Texas, but all across the country.
Representative John Ratcliffe represents the 4th Congressional District of Texas. Senator Ted Cruz is the Junior Senator from Texas. The above report was jointly written and then submitted by Representative Ratcliffe’s Communications Director Rachel Stephens.