Op-Ed: Those who are responsible must be held accountable

June 15, 2014
In The News

By Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Published: June 15, 2014

Imagine if your son or daughter, or your brother or sister, was sick or injured, and needed urgent care, but couldn't see a doctor for three months, six months, or more than a year. This scenario would be unacceptable to all of us.

Yet thousands of veterans, Hawaii's sons and daughters, across the state have been waiting for months just to see a doctor. After serving their nation honorably, they come home and are told to wait an average of 145 days to see a doctor for the first time. Many wait even longer.

This crisis is evidence of systemic problems, which requires a complete overhaul and culture change within the VA. The change required must be two-pronged in approach: First, immediate, temporary action to ensure wait-listed veterans get access to care right away, and second, long-term changes at the VA that will completely overhaul the current broken system.

To deal with the immediate crisis, I have repeatedly called for President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to allow veterans to use their VA identification cards to seek care outside the VA system, from private physicians in their community. I will be introducing legislation in Congress to do the same. This is the most expedient solution to allow veterans to utilize the private health care system, with the VA covering the cost of care.

The House and Senate will come together this week to work on compromise legislation that seeks to bring longer-term solutions. Some provisions in the bills will have a positive impact; there are others that I have concerns with, and that don't go far enough to solve this crisis.

Some are calling for more resources for the VA; however, we cannot just dump more money into a broken system. The money will disappear into a bureaucratic black hole while the status quo continues, unless there are conditions in place that will ensure additional appropriated dollars go directly to paying for VA care providers, or reimbursing non-VA physicians.

If there is any hope of changing the culture of the VA, accountability and tough consequences are necessary. It is critical that Congress passes legislation that enables the termination of high-level officials who are not fulfilling their duties. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, and whoever is appointed to permanently lead the VA, must have the flexibility to build a strong team that can implement the systemic change necessary to move forward.

Additionally, those within the VA who are incompetent, and who have abused their positions, resulting in wasted taxpayer dollars, and veterans sick and potentially dying while waiting for care, should be investigated for criminal action and prosecuted accordingly.

We have no time to waste. I've heard from my brothers and sisters-in-arms across the state, with too many stories of frustration as they beg for help just to see a doctor. They should not have to wait another day. It is time for the VA and our country to honor our veterans' sacrifices with real, meaningful action.

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