Congressman Keith Rothfus

Representing the 12th District of Pennsylvania

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Working Across the Aisle to Improve Care for Veterans

Sep 5, 2014
Column

Western Pennsylvania is home to many veterans.  Joining together as a community to recognize and thank local veterans at events across Pennsylvania’s Twelfth Congressional District is one of the most solemn honors of my job. Recently we had tremendous events at a D-Day Commemoration Ceremony and a Military and Veterans Appreciation Event.

Perhaps the most important way we can honor our veterans is by keeping the promise we have made as a nation to care for them when they come home.

During President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address almost 150 years ago, he called on all Americans to come together, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and for his orphan.”

These words are at the center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mission statement.  Since its founding in the early twentieth century, the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals at the VA have provided veterans with excellent care.

However, VA management has failed to fulfill its mission in recent years.  Western Pennsylvanians are all too familiar with these failures.  Six veterans survived war, but died at the Pittsburgh VA after contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Many more had to wait unacceptable amounts of time on waiting lists in Pittsburgh and around the country.

These problems are emblematic of a bureaucracy that is out-of-touch and unaccountable.

Veterans should receive the highest quality of care in a timely manner.  It is a matter of solidarity.  They stood for us. We too must stand for them.

My colleagues from Western Pennsylvania and I, along with the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, have been working to make the local and national VA accountable and transparent all in an effort to improve care for our veterans.

Although more work remains to be done, the bipartisan reforms recently passed the House and Senate and signed by the President represent a positive step towards ensuring that veterans receive the quality health care they earned.

H.R. 3230, the Veterans’ Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, passed the House in an overwhelmingly bipartisan 420-5 vote.  The Senate passed its parallel measure in a similarly bipartisan 91-3 vote.

H.R. 3230 enables the VA to hire additional doctors and nurses.  It also allows veterans to obtain care at local non-VA facilities if the VA is unable to provide treatment in a timely manner.  Veterans who live more than forty miles from the nearest VA medical facility may also now seek care at a non-VA facility.

This legislation is not a blank check.  Rather, it institutes important reforms that will help bring much-needed accountability and transparency to the VA.  Notably, it requires independent assessments of care throughout the VA health care system and authorizes the VA to fire or demote senior executives if they fail to serve veterans properly.

The bill also reduces funding for performance bonuses for senior executives at the VA.  While I continue to believe that money used for performance bonuses would be better spent fixing problems at the VA and ensuring that veterans receive the care they deserve this is a good step towards making the VA leadership more accountable to those they serve.

My staff and I are here to help.  If you are a veteran in need of assistance, please call or visit your local district office. To read more about my efforts to hold the VA accountable and improve care for our veterans, please visit http://rothfus.house.gov/working-for-accountability-and-transparency-at-the-VA.

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