Shelby: Unconscionable that Veterans Denied Timely Access to Healthcare

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today during committee consideration of the Fiscal Year 2015 Veterans Affairs/Military Construction funding bill strongly criticized the Obama Administration’s widely reported mismanagement of veterans’ benefits, in which many have been denied timely access to healthcare services.  Shelby commended the inclusion of $5 million in the legislation for the Inspector General to investigate scheduling practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but said much more needs to be done to fully address the problem. 

The full text of Shelby’s remarks is as follows: 

Before we vote, Madam Chairwoman, I would just like to say that I am pleased that the Committee is giving the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill top priority because, like so many of my colleagues, I am deeply concerned about the recent allegations of “secret” waiting lists and avoidable veteran deaths as a result of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ mismanagement.     

It is unconscionable that our nation’s veterans would be denied timely access to the healthcare services they both need and have earned.  It is furthermore unconscionable that the Obama Administration has ignored repeated warning signs of these abuses, including a December 2012 GAO report, a September 2013 Inspector General report, and a December 2013 report by the Office of the Medical Inspector.  

During his 2008 Presidential campaign, then Senator Barack Obama affirmed that, quote, “in an Obama administration, the VA will provide benefits and care that will be accessible, high-quality, reliable, responsive and fair, year after year,” end quote. 

Yet today, we are faced with reports of VA employees creating secret waiting lists and falsifying records, leading to numerous preventable veteran deaths.  Let me be clear.  This kind of reported misconduct at the VA is unforgivable.  It is unacceptable.  And, it is just plain wrong.

On May 15th, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, where he affirmed that quote, “any adverse event for a Veteran within our care is one too many.”  So, it is with this in mind that I want to encourage this Committee to seek real answers and accountability from the VA. 

While I commend the Committee’s support for an additional $5 million in funding to the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the VA’s scheduling practices, I also recognize that this is just a starting point.   We must do more than simply “research” the problem.  We must correct it. And, we must correct it before any more veterans are adversely affected.  

Our nation’s veterans deserve to be treated with the respect they have earned during their service to our country.  The cost of freedom is dear, and this cost is borne willingly by America’s veterans.  They sacrifice for our nation.  They serve for our freedoms, and the very least that we can do is provide them with timely access to health benefits they have earned.  I look forward to working with this Committee to find real solutions, and to finally ensure that the VA does, indeed, provide “benefits and care that will be accessible, high-quality, reliable, responsive and fair, year after year.”