May 17, 2016
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced today amendment 3969 to the Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill that would set aside $18 million for Veterans Integrated Services Networks (VISN) to contract with outside entities to investigate and audit VA medical facilities within their regions.
“Our amendment would empower regional VA leaders to partner with the private sector to provide a second layer of scrutiny for improving the quality of care provided to veterans in Oklahoma and across the nation,” said Inhofe. "As we most recently experienced in our state, the VA Office of Inspector General’s investigation report on wait times at the Tulsa VA clinic did not match what we are hearing on the ground. This is a common occurrence for the investigations that come from within the Department, and as a result, many veterans and VA employees have lost faith in the agency. The intent of our amendment is to leverage the use of an outside entity to provide guidance on how to improve the system and to restore confidence for both employees and patients. There is no better group to give this contracting authority to than the regional VA directors who know first hand the issues their medical facilities face and are directly responsible for brining about change in the midst of excessive bureaucracy.”
“Men and women who have served our nation in uniform deserve quality care, and we’re committed to improving that standard of care,” said Lankford. “Oklahomans keep telling me about the same problems at our VA facilities. A fresh set of eyes, from outside the VA, will enhance everyone’s efforts to ensure our VA facilities are world class. Hiring the right leadership and updating processes will help bring the VA in line with the expectations of our veterans and fellow Oklahomans.”
Oklahoma’s medical facilities fall under VISN-19, Rocky Mountain Network, which is responsible for the planning, budgeting, and service delivery in the provision of healthcare to veterans within a geographic region that stretches across 10 states. Overall there are 18VISNs in the Veterans Health Administration.
On Feb. 12, Inhofe and Lankford introduced the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act (S.2554), legislation expanding authority at the VA Department to allow directors of Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) chapters to remove or demote any VA employee within their network whose performance warrants such action and to authorize VISN directors to contract with an outside entity to conduct investigations of their VA medical facilities. The legislation would also direct a comptroller general report on the implementation of the and Choice Program created by the 2014 VA reform bill.
On March 11, Inhofe and Lankford welcomed VA Deputy Sec. Sloan Gibson to Oklahoma and met with him at the conclusion of Gibson’s stakeholder meetings at the Muskogee VA hospital and the Oklahoma City VA hospital. The Senators continue to receive regular updates from the VA headquarters and from VISN-19 on the progress of investigations and management changes for the VA medical facilities across the state.