President Signs Veterans Benefits and Transition Act, Includes Inhofe Legislation

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the president for signing S. 2248, the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018. The legislation included legislation Inhofe authored to improve veteran health care, specifically to require all VA Medical Centers to present a plan to reach five star ratings.

“I am very pleased the president signed the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act. 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. This legislation is a commitment to a culture of continuous improvement at the VA. Our veterans deserve the best care possible and I am proud the president and Congress are continuing to make them a priority.”

A provision was also included which authorized funds to be used to improve the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at the Oklahoma City VA.

The legislation was praised by the Oklahoma Veterans Council:

"The legislation authored by Senator Inhofe requires each medical center director, through their VISN directors, to submit a 5-year plan to the Secretary of the VA on the resources needed to get their facility to a 5 star rating,” said Pete Peterson, Chairman, Oklahoma Veterans Council. “Their 5 year plan will serve as a road map that insures that the medical center directors have the necessary resources that they need in order to provide the absolute best care to our veterans.”

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.
  • On March 9, 2018, Sen. Inhofe, Sen. Lankford, Rep. Mullin and Rep. Russell first introduced the five-star legislation to require all VA Medical Centers to present a plan to reach five star ratings.