Tulsa World: U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe: Uphill battle: Fighting for veterans' health care

By:  Sen. Jim Inhofe
Click here to read at Tulsa World

Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks on MSNBC that problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs are not as “widespread” as many believe, shows a concerning disconnect from reality.

I would argue that Oklahoma’s veterans, and the 57,000 other veterans across the nation who waited more than three months last year for access to their VA health care, would attest to a very different experience than what Clinton portrayed.

In Oklahoma alone, our news outlets have worked tirelessly to expose issues facing our veterans as a result of inadequate care from the VA. In the past year alone, KJRH-TV has uncovered several instances such as a veteran who had to file bankruptcy as a result of the VA failing to deliver on promised benefits that would help to pay a $200,000 emergency room bill.

Unfortunately, his story is not uncommon. My office this year has received roughly 40 inquiries from veterans confronted with bills to private-sector hospitals and physicians that the VA had indicated it would pay, but later denied.

Another story in Oklahoma’s press involved a Tulsa veteran who, after a mild heart attack, was sent to a Houston VA facility and prepped for surgery before being told the VA wouldn’t pay for the procedure. The process left him 41Ž2 days without food and water. When the VA returned him home, they left him without his oxygen tank, which landed him back in the hospital.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. My office has investigated hundreds of inquiries from Oklahoma veterans who have been subjected to insufficient, and possibly negligent care, or denied access to rightfully earned benefits.

Because of the privacy agreements my office enters into while processing cases, I’m not at liberty to share details to show the disturbing injustices taking place. However, the media, as well as countless investigations by the VA’s own inspector general’s office, has clearly documented the situation in VA facilities and is readily available for Clinton to review.

Fortunately, Oklahoma has an entire congressional delegation who is fighting to improve care for our veterans. As you may recount, last year the entire delegation voted in favor of bipartisan legislation to reform the VA, providing the VA secretary additional authorities to fire personnel and hold them accountable for issues of mismanagement and poor performance.

We have continued to fight for adjustments to improve this law’s offerings, to include U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s efforts to fix the 40-mile rule that will now allow more veterans to get timely access to care.

Sen. James Lankford has also been an ally of mine in cutting red tape and securing the necessary resources to help the Tulsa VA medical center enter into a new lease that will meet the demands of a growing veterans’ population with a facility that is up to current medical building code standards.

I can also say first hand that Oklahoma’s veterans have doctors, nurses, case workers, and other VA employees that are fighting to improve care. Thanks to their efforts and willingness to come forward, I was able to have both the VA inspector general and the Veterans Integrated Service Network 16 recently assess the medical treatment of our veterans at our facilities.

After my office received additional complaints regarding mismanagement, continued abuse, pay inequities, reprisals, and potential use of “hard stops” to reduce consults and limit care for veterans at the VA Medical Center in Muskogee, I discussed the situation with VA Secretary Bob McDonald who directed his chief of staff to visit Oklahoma last month.

He has promised to follow up soon on the concerns raised during his fact-finding visit so that we can continue making progress toward improving health care for our veterans, not only in Muskogee but across the state.

No Republican, much less those within the VA who have also voiced concerns, want the VA to “fail” as Clinton stated.

If there is one issue we as a nation should be unifying around, it is the care we provide our veterans who have fought and sacrificed so that we can enjoy the freedom we know today.