December 21, 2017
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), spoke on the Senate floor today about the Enhancing Veterans Care Act and veterans care in Oklahoma.
“… two years ago today I picked up the USA Today and in the USA Today they singled out my state of Oklahoma and said that we are not treating our veterans right and we were in shock at that time. …”
“… This isn’t how we take care of veterans in Oklahoma. So, Senator Lankford and I and two of the House members got to work on this thing. …”
“… Meanwhile, back to our VA problem in Oklahoma, we’ve put two great new directors in the VA clinics and have a level of veteran care Oklahoma is proud of. …”
“... Only yesterday President Trump signed the Enhancing Veterans Care Act to ensure we continue to give our veterans the best care. They deserve it and they’re going to get it. And, at the same time, we’re going to restore and rebuild our military as our nation’s # 1 priority. Our troops deserve it and they’re going to get it.”
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Madam President, two years ago today I picked up the USA Today and in the USA Today they singled out my state of Oklahoma and said that we are not treating our veterans right and we were in shock at that time. This article detailed the appalling standards of care at Veterans Affairs facilities in Oklahoma—something multiple inspector general reports from the Obama administration failed to reveal: Our veterans weren’t getting the care they deserved. Our VA facilities weren’t being held to the highest standards.
This isn’t how we take care of veterans in Oklahoma. So, Senator Lankford and I and two of the House members got to work on this thing and talked to regional VA leadership, veterans and whistleblowers and identified three key problems we needed to fix:
First, the VA couldn’t fire bad employees. Many VA employees are dedicated public servants, but, unfortunately, there are bad actors that do not adhere to the highest standards of care. Yet, despite having been identified as poor performing individuals, they couldn’t be fired or terminated from their positions due to the immense bureaucracy surrounding the VA.
We fixed that this summer when President Trump signed the VA Accountability Act that included our language to allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to immediately fire employees for misconduct or poor performance. President Trump’s administration has used this authority to fire over 500 bad actors from the VA. We’re finally creating a culture of accountability at the VA — which has led to positive improvements.
That was the first reform.
Next, too many veterans were forced to receive care from VA facilities that were hours away or didn’t provide the specialized care they needed. Our veterans should have a choice in their doctor, hospital or other treatment facility.
We worked with the president to reauthorize the bipartisan VA Choice program earlier this year to ensure veterans have access to high-quality health care of their choice. That’s done.
Finally, after the USA Today article, we requested an accredited third-party look into the problems at our VA facilities because previous reports from Obama’s Veterans Affairs’ inspector general failed to identify and correct the problems.
My request was denied. The VA didn’t want someone looking over their shoulder.
You may remember that I blocked the Senate’s confirmation of the inspector general nominee until he agreed to allow an outside entity investigate our VA facilities--but that was a one-time authority.
Today, I am pleased to announce that is no longer the case.
President Trump has signed the Enhancing Veterans Care Act—permanently granting VISN directors and medical center directors the authority to request outside oversight to ensure that their VA facilities are held to the same standards as private hospitals. It is important for the regional directors to have this authority because they have the best idea of the reality of care at their facilities.
I appreciate the work of my colleagues, Senator James Lankford, Congressman Markwayne Mullin, and Congressman Steve Russell. We are a team in advocating for these efforts. We’re already starting to see real progress and improvement in veterans care in Oklahoma and across the country. We need to get our VA facilities from their current ratings to the highest standard: a 5 star rating. We’re almost there in Oklahoma.
President Trump will continue to be an important partner for Oklahoma as we continue to improve veterans care. His commitment to our veterans is only matched by his commitment to our service members and our national security. We saw that earlier this week when the president outlined his National Security Strategy, charting a new course for American foreign policy, leaving behind the failed policies of President Obama.
With his National Security Strategy, President Trump has been clear – he is committed to protecting the homeland, promoting American prosperity, advancing peace through strength and rebuilding our military. He has reasserted America’s leadership in the free world.
We saw how under President Obama, the military was forced to divert resources for priorities that weren’t about defending America. He used the military to advance his liberal agenda.
This led to the wasteful spending of the “green Navy” and the “green bullets” and the idea that climate change was the largest threat to national security. That’s all changing and not a moment too soon.
President Trump is focused on what matters—rightfully taking out things like climate change from our nation’s national security strategy and focusing all efforts on rebuilding our military that has been starved for eight years.
When the president came into office, our military was facing a readiness crisis. Americans didn’t know what had happened to our military under President Obama.
Our Air Force is short 1,500 pilots, including 1,300 fighter pilots. Only 50% of Air Force squadrons are trained and ready to conduct all of their assigned missions.
The Navy is the smallest and least ready it’s been in years, and currently can only meet 40% of demand from regional combatant commanders, including only enough personnel to man 6 and a half of our 9 carrier air wings. A carrier wing consists of approximately 75 combat aircraft and nine squadrons. They are 8,000 enlisted sailors short. More than half of Navy F-18s are grounded because they’re awaiting maintenance or lack necessary spare parts.
The Army has said only about one-third of their Brigade Combat Teams, one-fourth of their Combat Aviation Brigades and one-half of their division headquarters are currently ready. A BCT consists of seven battalions, approximately 4500 soldiers.
Facing the most dangerous threats I have seen in my lifetime, these are critical gaps in our military we can simply not accept.
The NDAA that the president just signed into law will be a big step forward in correcting the readiness shortfalls and I look forward to continuing to work with him on this critical process. Meanwhile, back to our VA problem in Oklahoma, we’ve put two great new directors in our VA clinics and have a level of veteran care Oklahoma is proud of.
Only yesterday President Trump signed the Enhancing Veterans Care Act to ensure we continue to give our veterans the best care. They deserve it and they’re going to get it. And, at the same time, we’re going to restore and rebuild our military as our nation’s # 1 priority. Our troops deserve it and they’re going to get it.