The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs came under intense scrutiny in recent years as stories of secret waiting lists, inordinate delays, and substandard care came to light. While many hardworking and dedicated professionals work at VA facilities across the country, a small number of unscrupulous employees gave the entire department a bad name.
As a Marine and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I was pleased that Republicans and Democrats in Congress came together to reform the system. Yet if these reforms are going to take root at the local level, they can only do so under steady leadership and a long-term vision at each of our VA medical centers.
Unfortunately, more than 30 VAMC’s are operating under a revolving door of temporary administrators, with tenures lasting no more than 120 to 240 days. That includes the John Cochran Medical Center in St. Louis, which treats tens of thousands of area veterans annually. I believe that four to eight months is simply not enough time for a well-intentioned administrator to bring about the improvements in care that America’s heroes deserve.
That is why I introduced H.R. 3956, the VA Health Center Management Stability and Improvement Act. This common sense, bipartisan legislation requires the VA Secretary to submit a plan to Congress for finding and hiring a permanent, highly-qualified director for each VA Medical Center that is currently under temporary leadership. It will also require a thorough analysis of the impediments that have made this hiring process so difficult in the first place.
I testified before the VA Health Subcommittee last week to urge my colleagues to bring my bill to the House floor for a vote. I am pleased that committee chairman Jeff Miller has recognized the same problems I have and is working to address them. We have a ways to go, but we are moving in the right direction.
Sometimes fixing a problem can be as simple as that. Bring people together; focus on the root causes of a problem; put a deadline on finding a solution; and get to work. Now, granted, fixing systemic problems at the VA won’t be that easy. Fixing the VA is going to be a long and costly proposition, and to say otherwise would be the worst kind of sugarcoating. But our veterans are worth it.
No organization can thrive under a revolving door of interim leaders – certainly not one tasked with the care of America’s heroes. But any of these veterans can tell you that winning a battle requires steadfast and steady leadership. That’s why we must fight for the brave men and women who have fought for us. I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle feel the same way.