House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) blasted President Barack Obama Tuesday for claiming that the broken Department of Veterans Affairs is being repaired, and said the absence of decisions to fire officials involved in the VA health care scandal show this is not the case.
Miller also said Congress’s requests for information and updates continue to be stonewalled.
“White House claims that VA is improving when it comes to accountability, transparency and protecting whistleblowers don’t add up, especially when no one has been fired as a result of the VA scandal, the department is still sitting on 113 outstanding information requests from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and VA whistleblowers who tried to expose problems are still enduring retaliation,” Miller said after Obama delivered a speech to the American Legion.
“What we need from the president right now is more follow-through and less flash when it comes to helping veterans,” he said. “A good place for him to start would be to meet with family members and veterans who have been struck by the VA scandal, order the department to cooperate with the congressional committees investigating VA, and force DoD and VA to work together to establish a joint electronic health record integrated across all DoD and VA components.”
Obama used his remarks to say he would improve health care access for veterans, and noted that the actions of VA officials around the country have been “inexcusable.” VA officials were found to be manipulating the wait-time data of veterans seeking VA care, and many helped to cover up those actions once the scandal broke.
Congress passed legislation that provides billions in additional funding for the VA to hire doctors, and makes it easier for the VA secretary to fire officials involved in the scandal or for other performance-related reasons.
However, VA Secretary Robert McDonald has yet to say he would use this new, expedited authority. And earlier this month, McDonald indicated that he would prefer to retrain corrupt officials rather than fire them.
McDonald spoke to the American Legion soon after Obama’s remarks, and said more than 30 personnel actions have been taken. He said two senior officials resigned or retired, three were placed on administrative leave, and more than two dozen health professions were removed from their positions. But while he mentioned the new expedited process, he made no explicit mention that it was being applied to any officials yet — rules for using that process were released just last week.
Members of Congress have accused some VA officials of lying to them directly about steps being taken to address the scandal. Last week, two officials at the Central Alabama VA system were placed on leave, but like many others, they are on paid leave, and have not yet been fired.
A key official involved in the scandal in Phoenix has been on paid leave for more than 110 days without being fired.