In Georgia, we are home to world-class healthcare providers and policymakers.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, is a former Georgia legislator and a physician. We are home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Grady Medical Center, Emory Winship Cancer Institute, and the Medical College of Georgia. We have created the Georgia Research Alliance, a nonprofit organization that brings together Georgia’s research universities, business community, and state government to create opportunities to grow Georgia’s economy through scientific discovery. We are proud of each of our medical service providers across the state—not only in our metro areas.
Georgia is also home to more than 750,000 veterans and more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services. As a veteran myself and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, veterans’ healthcare issues are very dear to my heart.
I have long said that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must be accountable to the veterans it serves and offer healthcare and benefits in a timely manner. If bad actors are working in the VA without the threat of removal, our veterans will not receive the care they have earned or deserve.
It is for these reasons that I worked with my colleagues in the Senate to introduce the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. President Donald Trump signed this legislation into law in June, taking a critical step forward in changing the culture of the VA and helping improve services for our nation’s veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act provides the tools to identify the bad actors and the ability to remove them from the department as quickly as possible. It also ensures that an individual who is removed from the VA after being found guilty of wrongdoing is not kept on the VA’s payroll if they choose to appeal that decision.
The bill also makes it easier for the VA to remove poorly performing senior executives. Those in leadership positions should be held to a higher standard but are too often overlooked by the system.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act also prohibits the VA from awarding bonuses to bad actors. This is a no-brainer decision to the average American, but awarding bonuses to delinquent employees unfortunately has been common practice for too long at the VA.
While creating a culture of accountability is important at the VA, we also need to ensure that veterans are able to get their appointments in a timely manner. This is why we created the Veterans Choice Program in 2014 to give veterans the option of accessing care in their own communities. While this program has begun to show results in some areas, more work is needed to follow through on its promise to veterans so they can access the care they need. Earlier this summer, my committee held a hearing discussing the future of the program with VA Secretary David Shulkin and I am currently working with my House and Senate colleagues, various stakeholders and the administration, on legislation to enhance the Veterans Choice Program and ensure continued access to timely and convenient care.
We are also working to reform the VA’s current disability claims appeals process, as our veterans are still waiting too long on resolutions to their disability benefit appeals when trying to gain access to VA benefits and services. The VA’s current appeals process is in desperate need of updating — nearly half a million veterans are in limbo because of their existing backlog.
To address this serious problem and help ensure veterans get an answer from the VA on their appeals, we introduced the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 that will overhaul the VA’s current process. We are committed to working closely with the VA to address the existing backlog and lower the amount of time veterans wait to get their appropriate benefits.
When discussing health care, we cannot forget about the VA and the veterans that it serves. I will continue to use my voice in Congress to speak for our veterans and all Georgians.
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs