Purple Heart Magazine: Taking Care of Our Veterans

By:  U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe

Sen. Inhofe's column appeared in the July print edition.

As we all know, freedom is not free, and our brave veterans have placed their lives on the line to honorably fight for the freedoms we enjoy.  There is no adequate compensation to repay them for their sacrifices, but we can and we must endeavor to pay tribute to their service by continuing our commitment to provide them with the best possible care and recognition.

The recent information concerning fraudulent wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities and inadequate patient care are completely unacceptable.  President Obama likes to champion access to quality health care when it comes to his signature legislation, ObamaCare, but he has failed to address the problems in the department charged with providing health care for our nation's heroes.   

Though Sec. Eric Shinseki has honorably served his country, his resignation, as well as the resignation of Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel, will give the opportunity for new leadership in the VA to quickly and effectively enact overdue reforms.  It is important as new leadership comes in that we force a climate of transparency and accountability in the department’s operations.

One way to ensure this is by requiring the Inspector General (IG) for the VA toprovide Congress with a report on wait times for medical appointments for our veterans. S.2316, current legislation in the Senate that I support, would make this reporting process a requirement by law and also ensure transparency byrequiring the IG to outline in the report how the current system failed; when and how the fraud began; and who has been complicit. Furthemore, the legislation would prevent closure of any VA medical facility until the delays are resolved. If the report is done correctly, it will help Congress solve the critical problems the President is failing to address.

Wait lists are only one aspect of this problem.  We must also work to provide our veterans with more options for access to efficient care by allowing them to go to non-VA providers when the services they need at the VA are not readily available.  However, our veterans should be able to rely on the VA as their primary option to provide quality, consistent health care. It’s a benefit they earned and that our nation promised to them for their dedicated service. In order to ensure our VA clinics are capable of delivering this care, Congress must provide the means necessary for the 27 clinics, as listed by the VA, to expand and renovate in order to meet current and future demand.

I will continue to work vigorously with my colleagues in the Senate to enact reforms and necessary changes to the VA so that our nation’s 21 million veterans will have access to the care they need.  I am humbled by the immeasurable dedication of each and every one of our veterans, and I believe that it is the government’s duty to honor the promises made to them.