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Opening Statement of The Honorable Dan Benishek M.D., Chairman, Subcommittee on Health

Good morning and thank you for joining us for today’s oversight hearing, “VA Accountability: Actions Taken in Response to Subcommittee Oversight.”

Almost one year ago today - during my first hearing as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health – we met to discuss the persistent lack of productivity and staffing standards for specialty care services at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities.

We learned that VA had yet to implement such standards despite more than thirty years of reports and recommendations directing the Department to do so. 

            I was so alarmed by VA’s decades-long lack of action that I quickly introduced H.R. 2072, the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act. 

            H.R. 2072 would:

-  require VA to ensure that IG recommendations concerning a public health or patient safety issue were addressed;

- identify those within VA medical facilities who are responsible for implementing needed changes; and,

-  prohibit VA from awarding a bonus or performance award to any employee who does not fully address a recommendation under his or her purview.         

            The goal of this legislation is to create a culture of accountability within VA – a culture where problems are identified and immediately corrected and leaders are held responsible for their actions.

 

Were H.R. 2072 in place thirty years ago, VA would have been required long before now to implement productivity and staffing standards for all specialty care services and who knows how the health and well-being of the veterans seeking care through VA would have improved as a result.

I wish I could say that that first hearing was the only time that we have seen evidence of a lack of timely action taken by VA in response to serious problems.

            Unfortunately, that is not true.

            Since the conclusion of that hearing, we have held other hearings and roundtables on topics ranging from the care provided to veterans with chronic pain and who have experienced military sexual trauma to concerns regarding Department-wide procurement reform and third-party collections.

            At each of these oversight forums, we heard example after example of VA failing to act swiftly to address important issues or respond to the Subcommittee’s requests for information in a timely manner.         

I am a surgeon by trade.

When a serious problem is identified, my instinct is to act without delay to cut out what needs cutting out and fix what needs fixing.

And, while I understand that large-scale changes often happen slowly– especially where large government bureaucracies like VA are concerned – I think we can all agree that our veterans deserve more than what we have seen in the last year.

            I am hopeful that H.R. 2072 will be heard on the House floor in the coming weeks.

            However, I am not content to wait for what can oftentimes be a lengthy legislative process to ensure that VA is on track to address the many issues the Subcommittee identified through last year’s oversight efforts. 

During today’s hearing we will:

- assess the progress, if any, that VA has made in response to the Subcommittee’s hearings and roundtables;

-  determine whether appropriate steps have been taken to ensure accountability when and where deficiencies in care have been highlighted; and,

- identify what further actions may be necessary to improve the care and services provided to our veterans.

Though the topics we will address today are wide-ranging they are undoubtedly interconnected. 

If we do not ensure that the Department is on track to implement appropriate productivity and staffing standards, then we cannot be sure that we have the right staff in place to care for veterans experiencing chronic pain. 

Similarly, if we do not ensure that VA is taking all necessary actions to improve the collection, where appropriate, of third-party revenue, then we cannot be sure that we are collecting every available dollar that could then, in turn, be used to improve the care and services provided to veteran survivors of military sexual trauma

Last week, I had the privilege of conducting an oversight visit to the West LA VA Medical Center.

During my conversations with the clinicians and support staff there, each of the issues we will discuss today were brought up by the providers when I asked them what needed to be improved in order to make it easier for them to care for our veterans.       

I cannot state enough how critical it is for VA to take responsibility for gaps in care and, more importantly, take immediate and definitive steps to address them.

Unfortunately, I have seen little concrete evidence in the last year that the Department is doing either. 

Concurring with IG and GAO reports is simply not enough. 

Sending out guidelines without accountability in not enough.

I sincerely hope that today’s conversation will change my mind.