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THUNE: VA officials must be held accountable

Sen. John Thune
opinion Mitchell,South Dakota 57301 http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/John%20Thune%20mug%20big_0.JPG?itok=y8bSj4VS
The Daily Republic
THUNE: VA officials must be held accountable
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Several weeks ago, stories began to emerge about administrators at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Phoenix falsifying medical records to cover-up delays in care to veterans.

The story also highlighted a number of preventable deaths of veterans who were victims of the secret wait lists. Since then, similar stories in states throughout the country have come to light about employees using comparable tactics to conceal backlogs.

The current state of affairs of our veterans’ health care is embarrassing, and there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment. These reports certainly bring to question the kind of leadership we have seen from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in his tenure. I have great respect for the secretary’s dedicated military career, but at the helm of the VA, we have seen problem after problem under his watch. Our veterans deserve better than this, and someone needs to be held accountable.

Unfortunately, South Dakota veterans in the Hot Springs catchment area have become all too familiar with the VA turning a deaf ear on their concerns. Since 2011, I have worked with veterans in the area to outline concerns about how the VA’s plans to close the Hot Springs VA facility would impact care for veterans. From wait times to quality of care to access to specialized health care services, Black Hills area veterans have made the negative consequences of the VA’s plan known to top agency offi cials. Despite these concerns, the VA announced recently that it has selected a contractor for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) at the Hot Springs VA, a precursor to closing any VA health care facility.

Rather than press forward with the closing of the Hot Springs VA, I think American veterans would be better served by the VA focusing its attention on addressing this immediate crisis. That’s why I introduced a bill that would prohibit the VA from closing any health care facilities or utilizing funds to conduct an EIS concerning closures until the Inspector General has released a report on this situation. If the IG concludes that veteran appointments or treatments were intentionally delayed, the legislation would restrict the VA’s closing of medical facilities or using funds for an EIS until delays are resolved.

If the IG report finds delays that were not related to medical or administrative reasons, my legislation would only allow a VA medical facility to be closed after the Secretary of the VA certifies to Congress that the closure of the medical facility would not have a negative impact on a number of important factors and services. Once the IG certifies that the VA has satisfactorily addressed all veteran wait times nationwide, the additional requirements for closing a VA facility would be lifted.

Our veterans have served our country with honor and dignity, only to be told to get in line to receive treatment for the results of their service and sacrifice. This is totally unacceptable.

I will continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle to address this systemic, administration-wide crisis and to hold VA officials accountable to the men and women they aim to serve.

— John Thune, a Republican, is one of South Dakota’s U.S. senators.

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