Hultgren calls out VA for health coverage failures
Whether its actions were indolent or illegal, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently came under sharp criticism from Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), who implored the government to grant veterans their medical care coverage.
Stating that his efforts thus far have produced “only excuses,” Hultgren called out the VA for the increasing and unfathomable delays in providing not only basic services covered by its policies but also timely reimbursement to patients for costs they incurred.
“Our vets deserve results,” Hultgren told fellow congress members in a House floor speech. "How many veterans are waiting for physician visits? How can the VA sit on its hands while our nation’s veterans wait and suffer?”
Standing on the House floor, Hultgren talked about the inefficiencies of the VA.
“Local VA facilities are refusing to work with new providers to get veterans the care they need,” he said. “The VA claims its hands are tied — but by what?”
Voicing his concern through written as well as oral channels, he also sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald asking how it is possible that legislation reforming the VA, the Veterans Choice Program, still has not been implemented since its passage over one year ago.
Hultgren also decried the VA in his missive to McDonald.
“To me, it seems as if the VA is simply obstructing home care services for veterans either illegally, indolently or both,” Hultgren said, writing on behalf of the men and women who are struggling with delayed treatment and coverage. “If ‘the VA is determined to provide exceptional, high-quality care and services for our veterans,’ as you said in your initial response letter to me, why aren’t you following through … and promptly addressing this issue?”
Hultgren has a consistent record of bringing veterans’ issues to the table in Washington. He has coordinated meetings between VA representatives and his Illinois constituents, visited VA hospitals and health care facilities, and co-sponsored measures to expedite health care benefits for former service members.
Measures that Hultgren has sponsored include the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act (HR 241), the Protecting Veterans Credit Act (HR 5593), the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 (HR 969), and the Hire More Heroes Act.
These bills, respectively, address delayed health care appointments, credit and payment reform, war-related disease coverage and a policy to encourage small businesses to hire more veterans. In particular, HR 241 mandates that veterans receive care within 30 days of their initial contact with the VA.
Additionally, Hultgren supported HR 2189 to create a task force to examine the mounting backlog of VA disability claims.
“I’ve become increasingly disturbed at the unfolding scandal surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs and the care … required by law to provide to our nation’s veterans,” Hultgren said.
Referring to allegations that staff at the VA Health Care System in Phoenix deliberately concealed how long patients had to wait for VA hospital appointments, Hultgren said that up to 40 veterans may have died while waiting months at a time for care.
“I have heard that top hospital administrators encourage the use of these secret lists to ensure they received the bonuses they are normally awarded for speedy treatment,” Hultgren said. “That brave men and women who have served our country may have died because someone was safeguarding their Christmas bonus and angling for promotion is outrageous and criminal.”
Sharon Helman, who was director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, had previously headed the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital just west of Chicago, where many of Hultgren’s constituents seek treatment. NBC News reported that Helman’s management style created a culture of manipulation and deceit, Hultgren said.
“Why has the VA veered from its mission?” Hultgren said, expressing outrage at the system’s setbacks. “We need an investigation to determine how to fix these deep-seated bureaucratic problems and to determine who’s at fault. But … our vets can’t wait that long. … We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. We need action now for veterans on the waiting list.”
In the Veterans Choice Program, former military personnel are entitled to vital home care services, medication, follow-up care and assistance — especially vets with disabilities who may lack access to transportation.
Hultgren urged veterans in his district to contact his office if they are experiencing problems with either Hines VA Hospital or the VA, saying veterans deserve swift action.
“Let’s be a voice for our veterans,” Hultgren said.
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