WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman Frank Guinta today introduced theVeterans Health and Accountability Act to enforce and expand reforms Congress made to the Veterans Administration, after whistleblowers at the federal agency exposed secret patient waiting lists, where veterans died while waiting months or years for care. CNN reported that over 300,000 died before receiving approval for care.
Rep. Guinta (NH01) said his bill is the result of frequent meetings with New Hampshire veterans groups, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Concerned Veterans for America. "The Granite State has the eighth largest vet population in the U.S. but no full-service VA facility or military hospital," hesaid, urging constituents to submit their concerns to his“We the People” Initiative.
He explained that his bill would remove distance and time restrictions from the Veterans Choice program, which Congress created to alleviate long wait times. Under the law, veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA center or waiting more than a month for an appointment may seek private care outside the government-run system.
"The closest VA facility to New Hampshire is in Vermont. Even then, the bureaucracy can be impenetrable for sick vets with no time to lose," said Rep. Guinta. "We're giving them their time back, and hopefully in many cases, their lives back. Our country should honor its commitment to the men and women who have kept us safe. We should ensure they receive the care our country promised them."
Vet group discusses VA problems with Rep. Guinta (left) in D.C.
Rep. Guinta’sVeterans Health and Accountability Act also requires the VA Secretary to annually report to Congress progress towards reform. The bill protects whistleblowers who expose negligence and mismanagement from retaliation. Awhistleblower in Phoenix revealed that VA employees there hid languishing patients from official records in order to collect rewards for timely service.
Another in Atlanta revealed that administrators purposefully allowed benefit applications to expire.“Without whistleblower protection, we may never have discovered the tragedy at the VA,” said Rep. Guinta. “It’s vitally important these honest Americans follow their consciences without fear of reprisal.”
In 2013, Congress passed theVeterans Access to Care Act to provide alternatives to the VA’s single-payer healthcare system, as well as to deny bonuses, raises, promotions or employment to Veterans Administration workers guilty of malfeasance. However, theObama Administration has threatened to defund the Veterans Choice program. Many offenders have yet to receive punishment andremain on the job.
"Constituents visited me in Washington as recently as last week to describe rot at the VA and to ask for my help. My bill increases pressure on the agency and the Obama Administration to enact reforms that are now law. It expands other reforms to finally break the bureaucratic logjam,"said Rep Guinta. "If VA bureaucrats thought they could escape scrutiny once the nationwide scandal died down, they were wrong.”
Rep. Guinta is Manchester's former two-term mayor and a member of the House Financial Services Committee. He has cosponsored bills to help veterans find affordable housing and protected the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard from shutdown last year.