U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) held a press conference at the Oklahoma City VA today where they were joined by local veteran Pete Peterson, Oklahoma City VA Director Wade Vlosich and Muskogee VA Director Mark Morgan. Together, they announced a new initiative to help each of Oklahoma’s VA facilities achieve a five star rating, indicating they are the two of the highest performing VA facilities in the country.
Additionally, Sen. Inhofe and Congressman Mullin announced they were introducing legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Lankford and Rep. Russell, to require all VA Medical Centers to present a plan to reach five star ratings.
“In the past few years, we’ve made significant progress to improve the standard of care our veterans receive by installing and empowering new leadership and promoting greater transparency. I’m proud of our VA directors and the culture of improvement and accountability they have built. I’m eager to work with them and get them any tools or authorities they need to reach a five star-status,” Sen. Inhofe said. “By saying that we’re going to aim for the highest rating, all of us here today are committing to a culture of continuous improvement at the VA. Our legislation, which would require all VA facilities to submit a plan of how to achieve a five-star rating, would seek to instill that same attitude in VAs around the country so that our veterans receive the best care possible.”
“The men and women who have fearlessly served our nation deserve first-class, or in this case, 5-star health care,” said Sen. Lankford. “The requirement for a specific improvement plan proposed in this bill will assist the VA to achieve the care that our military men and women deserve, and I’m honored to partner with Senator Inhofe, Congressman Mullin and Congressman Russell to introduce a plan that helps the nation’s VA health care facilities continue to improve.”
“Our nation’s veterans deserve five star care no matter which VA health care facility they choose,” said Rep. Mullin. “I’m proud to help introduce legislation that brings greater accountability to the VA facilities serving our veterans. The VA Medical Center Improvement Act instructs underperforming VA facilities to devise a plan to deliver better health care to our veterans. The VA should consistently strive to improve and modernize the care our veterans receive and I’m grateful this piece of legislation brings us one step closer to high quality health care for all of our veterans.”
“Having served for 21 years in the Army, I know firsthand how much our soldiers sacrifice in defense of our republic,” Rep. Russell said. “Our veterans deserve the very best medical care; anything less than the highest standard is unacceptable. S. ___ will push our VA medical facilities to deliver the quality of care that our veterans deserve. I’m proud to support this important legislation, and will be introducing a companion bill in the House.”
The Veterans Health Administration uses a unified system for summarizing hospital system performance at individual VA Medical Centers based on 25 quality measures that include complications, patient satisfaction, wait times and staff turnover. The VA Medical Centers are evaluated then awarded ratings, on a scale of 1-5 based both on their relative performance to other VA facilities as well as on year-to-year improvement. While the relative nature of the star system means not every facility will be able to achieve the highest rating, the legislation being introduced seeks to raise the level of patient care across the board by increasing competition for the highest level of ratings.
Background on Sen. Inhofe’s work to improve veteran health care:
- On Nov. 30, 2015, VISN 19 sent two teams to investigate operations at the Muskogee VA center, one that looked at quality of care and the other that looked at management of the facility. Their visits resulted in the immediate shut down of intermediate surgeries at the Muskogee facility due to issues that were discovered. It also prompted the removal of the facility’s Chief of Staff on Feb. 9.
- On Dec. 23, 2015, Inhofe contacted VISN 19 Network Director Ralph Gigliotti and requested his personal assistance in ensuring proper care is provided to the five veterans identified in the Dec. 23, 2015, USA Today article.
- In January 2016, Inhofe requested that the VA IG visit Oklahoma VA facilities with a third party entity since past VA IG reports had not indicated any problems in Oklahoma’s VA facilities. This request was denied.
- On Feb 1, 2016, Inhofe placed a hold on the Veterans Affairs Inspector General nominee until the VA agreed to send an outside entity to investigate Oklahoma’s VA facilities.
- On Feb. 12, 2016, Inhofe and Lankford introduced S. 2554, the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act, which would give authority to the Secretary of the VA to remove or demote a VA employee based on performance or misconduct and allow independent, third party oversight at VA facilities.
- On Feb. 23, 2017, Sen. Inhofe announced on the Senate floor that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has committed in writing to conduct investigations of Oklahoma’s VA hospitals in coordination with an outside entity, a condition made by Inhofe prior to allowing confirmation of the VA Inspector General nominee.
- On June 23, 2017, President Trump signed S. 1094 the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into law. This bill gives greater authority to VA directors to fire poorly performing employees. This legislation contained portions of S.2554, which Inhofe introduced the previous year.
- On July 10, 2017 the VA IG released a report following an investigation of the Muskogee VA that was done in conjunction with a third party, the Joint Commission. The report provided over 20 recommendations to improve the facility and care provided, which Director Mark Morgan committed to implementing.
- On August 14, 2017, President Trump signed S.114, to extend the Veterans Choice Program.
- On November 2, 2017 the VA IG released a report following an investigation of the Oklahoma City VA that was done in conjunction with a third party, the Joint Commission. The report provided over 20 recommendations to improve the facility and care provided, which Director Wade Vlosich committed to implementing.
- On December 20, 2017, President Trump signed S.1266, the Enhancing Veterans Care Act. Sen. Inhofe, Sen. Lankford and Rep. Mullin, authored this legislation to provide greater accountability and allow independent oversight at Veterans Affairs facilities, which was a core component of the legislation they introduced on February 12, 2016, S. 2554.