WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) today 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. This commitment fulfills the request Inhofe made when he placed his hold on the VA Inspector General nominee, Michael Missal, on Feb. 1. Inhofe today released that hold.
As prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, I rise to announce today I’m lifting the hold I placed on Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General (IG) nominee, Michael Missal.
This hold was placed not because of Mr. Missal, but because of deficiencies in the office of the IG.
At the Muskogee VA facility alone, the IG Office has conducted nine investigations since 2009 and there has been little to no change in the quality of care.
My office is working hundreds of cases for Oklahoma veterans facing inadequate care or blocked access to benefits.
I wrote the VA IG in January 2016 simply requesting the VA IG to visit our Oklahoma facilities and to do so with an outside entity, such as the Joint Commission.
Their response letter denied my request for conducting its investigation with a third party.
It’s time for our VA facilities in Oklahoma to be held to that same standards as private hospitals, and I believe it will take the aid of an outside group to make this happen.
Since placing the hold on Mr. Missal, the IG office has committed to investigating Oklahoma’s VA facilities with oversight from the outside.
I appreciate their commitment but my work to improve care for Oklahoma’s veterans doesn’t end there.
Since the VA reform bill passed Congress last summer, it’s clear that our facilities in Oklahoma have continued business as usual.
I believe the impending investigations will show that it’s going to require a change at the management level to bring about lasting improvements for veteran care.
This is why I, along with Sen. Lankford, introduced Senate Bill 2554, the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act, on Friday, February 12th.
This legislation is critical to providing the best treatment for our country’s veterans.
Building upon the comprehensive policy of the 2014 VA reform bill, our legislation grants VA leadership at the regional level the authority to fire or demote any staff that are failing to provide adequate care to veterans.
It also allows directors of Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) chapters to contract with an outside entity to conduct investigations of their VA medical facilities.
As I have worked to address the many concerns I have with Oklahoma’s VA facilities, I have come to trust the leadership at VISN 19.
They conducted two investigations into the Muskogee VA medical facility at the end of last year that resulted in immediate corrective action.
Not only were intermediate surgeries suspended due to what they uncovered, but also the Chief of Staff has been temporarily removed from his position.
This process, however, revealed that VISN directors are not presently empowered to address staffing concerns in the facilities they oversee.
Our legislation peels away the layers of bureaucracy and allows directors at each VISN chapter to play a larger role with improving the VA system as whole.
As we all know, freedom isn’t free. And many of our veterans have paid the price with scars, some visible while many go unseen, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
In my great state of Oklahoma, there are more than 37,000 military families and roughly 340,000 veterans that call our state home, attend our churches and contribute to our communities. On behalf of Oklahoma, I say we are humbled by the immeasurable dedication of each and every one of them.
I believe that it is the government’s duty to honor the promises made to our veterans in return for their sacrifices and I urge our my colleagues to remember that.