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Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good morning. The Committee will come to order. 

Welcome to today’s Full Committee oversight hearing entitled, “Creating Efficiency through Comparison: An Evaluation of Private Sector Best Practices and the VA Health Care System.”

Over the last eight weeks, the Committee has held ten Full Committee oversight hearings, encompassing just over thirty-five hours of testimony.

At these hearings, we have heard from VA leaders and a diverse collection of expert witnesses about the many and varied access, accountability, integrity, and data reliability failures that are plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and benefits systems.

In their testimony this morning, the American Hospital Association states that:

“Successful organizations have cultures that: set clear, measureable and actionable goals and ensure they are communicated to and understood by all employees; embrace transparency… [and]…engage their clinicians as partners, not employees…”

By this measure – which I believe is a fair one – the VA health care organization as we know it today cannot be considered a successful organization.

VA has failed to set and embrace clear, measurable, and actionable access and accountability goals as evidenced by a recent Administration report which stated that VA’s fourteen-day scheduling standard was “…arbitrary, ill-defined, and misunderstood…” and VA’s culture “…tends to minimize problems or refuse to acknowledge problems altogether.”

VA has failed to embrace transparency as evidenced by the one-hundred and fifteen outstanding deliverables requests dating back more than two years that this Committee continues to wait for.  

And, VA has failed to engage their clinician workforce as partners as evidenced by the numerous whistleblowers who have come forward to share their stories of retribution and reprisal and the many more who continue to call our offices yet, understandably, are reluctant to come forward publicly.

Our veterans deserve a VA that works for them; not one that refuses to work at all.

Improvement and innovation are necessary but neither can thrive in a bureaucratic vacuum.

And as with any vacuum, nature fills it with whatever is available and, in this case, it is questionable care, falsified performance, and abuse of employees.

During this morning’s hearing, we will discuss how the Department – and, by extension, our nation’s veterans – can move forward from this summer of scandal and create the VA health care system our veterans deserve by leveraging the best practices used by non-VA providers and private sector healthcare organizations.

On today’s witness panel we have two Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award winners; a former VA physician; two high-performing VA academic affiliates; and,  a national advocacy organization representing more than five-thousand hospitals, health care systems, networks, and care providers.

Though VA’s organization and patient population may have certain demographic qualities, there are valuable lessons to be learned from health care standard-bearers and leaders that, if heeded, could vastly and rapidly improve the care our veterans receive.

As I (the Chairman) stated during a hearing at the very beginning of this intense Committee oversight process, the Department got where it is today due to a perfect storm of believing its own rhetoric and trusting its status quo as a sacred cow immune from criticism and internal revolt.

VA cannot continue business as usual. 

The status quo is unacceptable. 

It is time for change – change that embraces both new ideas and proven practices.