Wyden, Merkley and Sanders Introduce New Bill to Bring Accountability to the VA

Washington, D.C. – Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden joined Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and several of their Senate colleagues in introducing a bill late yesterday to bring accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs and to cut through the red tape that keeps veterans waiting far too long for care, following the release of reports revealing systematic problems in meeting the health care needs of our nation’s veterans.

“What happened at the VA is outrageous,” Merkley said. “Those responsible should lose their jobs, and swiftly. Moving forward, we need to work together to ensure we have the doctors and resources to get our veterans the care they’ve earned. I’ll be working with my colleagues to make sure we do just that.”

“The Inspector General’s report shows that VA officials need to be held accountable for their job performance. It’s high time that Congress said, ‘Do your job or we’ll find somebody else who can,’” Wyden said. “It is imperative that our veterans get the care and benefits they have earned, and I’m going to be working with my colleagues to ensure we make that happen.”

The bill, the Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act, would allow the VA to quickly remove and replace officials found to have been involved in any mishandling of veteran medical care or exhibiting poor job performance, hire additional doctors and nurses to cut down on wait times, standardize the process for sending veterans into the community when the VA is unable to provide timely care and update the VA’s scheduling system to improve access to health services.

A report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General made public on May 28 detailed longer-than-reported wait times for veterans seeking doctor’s appointments and showed systematic use of inappropriate scheduling practices, including efforts to hide wait times.

Merkley and Wyden also co-sponsored a broader bill that Sanders and 11 of their Senate colleagues introduced Monday, the Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014. In addition to the provisions in the new bill, the Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act would also expand dental and other medical benefits, provide in-state tuition for veterans seeking new educational opportunities and improve access to resources for victims of military sexual assault. The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.