WASHINGTON – Following the release of a new report that revealed vast numbers of Oregon veterans have been unable to access care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden called Monday for renewed accountability and dramatic action to turn around a system they described as failing Oregon’s veterans.
The report revealed that both the Portland VA Medical Center and the Roseburg VA Medical Center were among the worst in the nation for waiting times, with more than 6,600 veterans unable to be seen within 90 days. Additionally, the report flagged the two facilities for further investigation, suggesting possible concerns about the handling of data. Other VA facilities serving Oregon vets, including those in Walla Walla and Boise, were also flagged for further investigation.
In recent weeks, Senator Merkley has called for new leadership at the national VA and met with local veterans groups and VA officials.
“The picture painted by this report is one that is 100% unacceptable for Oregon’s veterans,” said Merkley. “There needs to be immediate and intense action to ensure that veterans get the services they so fully deserve. Moreover, those who are responsible for these failings and any efforts to cover them up should lose their jobs immediately, and there must be further investigation into the possibility that this scandal reflects not just incompetence but wrongdoing.
“The wait times reported by the VA audit are far worse than what local leadership has told us in recent weeks, which raises substantial questions about whether we can believe anything we hear about what is happening in these facilities and demands explanation,” Merkley continued. “We need vastly improved leadership and a commitment from the highest levels of the Veterans Administration to fix these problems in Oregon, not sweep them under the rug. Our veterans deserve better.”
“I am appalled by today’s report that falsified records forced more than 6,600 Oregon veterans to endure unconscionable waiting times to receive the care they’ve earned,” said Wyden. “Those who cooked the books at VA facilities or lied to Congress as it attempted to conduct oversight should be fired immediately and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Merkley and Wyden have fought for years against the gaming of records at Oregon VA facilities. They fought an effort to downsize the Roseburg VA Medical Center, based on flawed studies that claimed low demand for services there. In 2011 Wyden, Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio wrote the VA secretary and succeeded in maintaining emergency room services and expanding telemedicine at the facility, although the VA closed the Intensive Care Unit and other services over the objections of Oregon’s delegation.