June 23, 2014
United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Mr. Gibson,
We are appalled by the deplorable and dishonest treatment of our nation’s veterans by the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), the department charged with providing health care to the men and women who have served our country in the military. The endless waitlists and failure to provide adequate care to all veterans are inexcusable, but even more troubling is the systemic breakdown of values and integrity among career VA leadership and employees, as revealed by their efforts to hide the truth about waiting times.
One of many examples of the deeply troubling VA failures comes from El Paso, where the El Paso Times reported on a survey conducted by Congressman Beto O’Rourke, which found:
It takes veterans in El Paso on average of 71 days to see a mental-health provider, and more than 36 percent of veterans who tried to make an appointment at the local clinic were unable to see one… it takes 85 days from the day a veteran seeking primary health care requests an appointment until he or she is seen by a health care provider.
While Secretary Eric Shinseki’s public recognition of the gravity of the scandal that took place under his leadership was a positive development, there must be accountability throughout the VA—not simply at the top. It is imperative for us to recognize that Secretary Shinseki’s recent resignation, while prudent, is not the solution to the problems at hand, and that we must not forget that those responsible for these fraudulent reports are still within the VA and not yet held accountable. Not only was there an “unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our veterans health facilities,” but before his official resignation, Secretary Shinseki came to the realization that the crisis was much larger than he previously thought:
I said when this situation began weeks and months ago that I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that. I no longer believe it; it is systemic.
In addition to the dishonesty and deceit underlying this secret waiting list scandal, the Austin American-Statesman has reported that whistleblowers are being intimidated. A letter from one whistleblower’s attorney, quoted by the Statesman, also alleges a disturbing motivation for VA officials to lie about waiting times:
It is readily apparent that many VA directors and supervisors have traded the health and safety of America’s veterans for money and performance awards. It is now clear that any employee, like my client, who opposes them will be retaliated against, silenced and punished.
The VA scandal may have broken on Secretary Shinseki’s watch, but he is not solely culpable. A report in The Washington Times indicates that the Obama-Biden transition team was warned in 2008 of the VA’s faulty wait-time information and data integrity issues. That this problem has festered and ballooned into a full-scale crisis without being remedied sooner is all the more unacceptable.
Furthermore, outcomes at VA facilities are inconsistent. A recent review by The Wall Street Journal, published by the paper on June 3, found “vastly disparate treatment results and what some VA doctors contend is the slippage of quality in recent years at some VA facilities.” Indeed, the Journal notes:
The Phoenix facility at the heart of the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs is among a number of VA hospitals that show significantly higher rates of mortality and dangerous infections than the agency’s top-tier hospitals, internal records show.
A thorough investigation is overdue. Waiting times, delays in care, and inconsistent quality of care must be expeditiously and completely addressed. Most critically, the culture of deceit, self-preservation and toleration of poor performance without consequence must be rooted out and eliminated.
Our nation’s veterans, which includes many Texans, deserve at least two things:
1. Quality health care delivered within a reasonable time frame; and,
2. An honest VA administration with integrity.
These outcomes are of immediate importance, and we ask that you make them your first priority. We also respectfully ask that you provide answers to the following questions:
1. What steps are you taking to ascertain the full extent of the crisis at your agency?
2. What actions, policy changes, terminations, or other steps will you take to immediately rectify known problems?
3. What longer-term reforms do you plan to implement?
4. How will you change the culture of the VA so a travesty of this nature never happens again?
5. If it does not already exist, what authority will you request from Congress that affords you and your subordinates the ability to discipline or terminate career SES or GS employees found acting with maleficence or misconduct?
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and these questions.
Senator Brian Birdwell
Representative Charles “Doc” Anderson
Senator Donna Campbell
Representative Trent Ashby
Senator Kelly Hancock
Representative Cecil Bell, Jr.
Senator Dan Patrick
Representative Dennis Bonnen
Senator Charles Schwertner
Representative Greg Bonnen
Senator Larry Taylor
Representative Cindy Burkett
Representative Angie Chen Button
Representative Stephanie Klick
Representative Travis Clardy
Representative Jodie Laubenberg
Representative Myra Crownover
Representative George Lavender
Representative Dan Flynn
Representative Jeff Leach
Representative John Frullo
Representative Rick Miller
Representative Craig Goldman
Representative Geanie W. Morrison
Representative Lance Gooden
Representative Jim Murphy
Representative Linda Harper-Brown
Representative John Otto
Representative Jason Isaac
Representative Chris Paddie
Representative Susan King
Representative Tan Parker
Representative Tim Kleinschmidt
Representative Charles Perry
Representative Scott Sanford
Representative Ed Thompson
Representative Kenneth Sheets
Representative Steve Toth
Representative Ralph Sheffield
Representative Scott Turner
Representative Ron Simmons
Representative James White
Representative Drew Springer
Representative Bill Zedler