Restoring transparency for veterans

Published 11:29 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It has been more than two years since then Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned amidst the height of the agency’s scandal in which veterans could not access the care they needed in a timely manner and suffered from gross misconduct by VA employees.

Congress demanded accountability and action, and we thought that the change in leadership and policy at the agency would generate the changes our veterans deserve.

While there have been some improvements, the culture at the VA has yet to change, as its leadership remains hesitant to discipline those whose actions are so detrimental to our heroes.

To address the issue, this past week, the House passed the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 by a vote of 310-116.

I commend Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) for this much-needed bill, which includes a number of provisions including additional authority to the Secretary of the VA to reprimand employees for performance or misconduct, including greater ability to dismiss failing employees.

Additionally, it would reform the VA claims appeal process to ensure veterans who file challenges to benefit claim decisions no longer have to wait years to receive their final determinations. This measure provides a simple and effective means to change the culture at the VA — and is imperative to providing our veterans the treatment that they deserve.

We must continue to work to serve our veterans more efficiently, and it is our responsibility to make sure they receive the highest level of care.

That is why I, along with Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), introduced the Veterans Administration Legislative and Objective Review (VALOR) Act in July of last year. If adopted, this legislation would require that the VA undergo a biannual, independent audit by a non-governmental entity.

VALOR would provide an outside perspective in identifying the problems at the VA and would offer solutions to solve these problems on an ongoing basis.

The insincerity and lack of professionalism throughout the VA is unconscionable.

The list of transgressions, improper conduct and lack of accountability goes on and on. We must ensure the VA is doing its job, which is why I supported Miller’s common-sense measure.

It is high time we hold the VA accountable for their mistreatment of the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to protect us.

These heroes deserve to receive the care we have promised and the VA must be inspected from the inside out in order to make sure they are living up to this promise.

As we continue to work to implement effective long-term solutions, I encourage our veterans and our active-duty members of the armed services to contact our office if we may ever be of assistance in dealing with the VA or any other federal agency.

I am humbled by the opportunity to serve Virginia’s Fifth District, and I remain fully committed to ensuring that our veterans who have given the most receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.

Robert Hurt, a Republican, represents Lunenburg County in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at his Farmville office at (434) 395-0120.