Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to make changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs after an investigation by USA Today revealed that the agency had been concealing serious mistakes made by agency employees that were harming veterans.
According to the the surgeon was never fired or reported to a national database that tracks problem doctors. Instead, he was allowed to resign quietly and move into private practice.
New Legislation Introduced
“The investigation’s findings are downright shameful, and we need action immediately to ensure that the VA does not hide medical mistakes or inadequate care,” said Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
A Heavily Legislated Agency
The VA has been an agency actively targeted with legislation from Congress this year. One of the new laws is the VA Accountability Act, one that gives VA leaders more authority to remove employees for cause.
It made use of the new law in September when it fired, for the second time, the former Washington, DC medical center director for various problems at the facility. The VA had already fired him once, but was forced to reinstate him due to a stay order issued by the Merit Systems Protection Board. The new law, however, gave the agency more leeway for implementing the removal action.
Another recently enacted law is intended to help veterans navigate the VA system and challenge rejected benefit claims and is also supposed to help reduce the appeals backlog with new approaches for veterans seeking benefits. (See New Law Changing Appeals Process at the VA)
Yet another bill that was just introduced would potentially change the role of the VA in veterans’ care by expanding the use of private care facilities for veterans unable to get direct medical care from the agency. (See VA Facing Fallout from Publicity and Scandals)
It is too early to know if these new laws and efforts by Congress to reform the agency will have a positive long-term impact on veterans’ care and/or help cut down on reports such as the USA Today investigation. As long as reports of serious patient care problems at the agency continue to surface, it is likely that Congress will keep wielding its legislative authority in an effort to fix the problems.