April 27, 2016
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today released the following statement regarding the investigation report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) on the wait times at the Tulsa VA Outpatient Clinic:
“The VA Inspector General’s report was largely inconclusive and conflicts with the stories I hear on a regular basis from local veterans and whistleblowers. It’s a perfect example of what drove my decision to put a hold on the VA IG nominee’s confirmation vote back in February until a promise was made to conduct an investigation of the Oklahoma VA medical facilities in tandem with a private entity. As we have seen from the leaked internal memo by the OKC VA Chief of Staff, I remain concerned that our state VA facilities have become more focused on protecting their bottom line than actually ensuring veterans are receiving quality, timely care. Excessive wait times at a VA facility qualifies veterans for the VA Choice Card program, a program created by Congress in 2014 that allows a veteran to see a private care provider if the local VA facility cannot meet the health need in a timely manner. No instance of manipulating wait times should be tolerated or brushed off. Now that Michael Missal has been confirmed as the new Inspector General, I look forward to working with him and holding the VA accountable to conducting new investigations of our OKLAHOMA facilities with an outside entity.”
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, who was temporarily reassigned until the completion of VA’s review of VISN 19’s report. VA Sec. Bob McDonald is expected to brief Inhofe on the results of these inspections in the next few weeks.
On Feb. 1, Inhofe placed a hold on the nominee for the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Michael Missal, until the department committed to investigating the Muskogee and Oklahoma City VA medical centers with the oversight of and in partnership with an outside private entity, such as the Joint Commission. Inhofe lifted the hold on Feb. 23 following a promise in writing to conduct these investigations. On April 19, the Senate voice voted to confirm Missal as the new Inspector General.
On Feb. 12, Inhofe, along with Sen. James 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 met with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson at the conclusion of Gibson’s stakeholder meetings at the Muskogee VA hospital and the Oklahoma City VA hospital. At this meeting Mr. Gibson promised that the Muskogee and Tulsa VA medical facilities would soon have new, permanent leadership in place.