October 5, 2018 – Increasing Oversight at the Phoenix VA
What is the problem?
The Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS) was the epicenter of an Obama-era scandal of corruption and mismanagement. According to VA employees, many veterans waited months to schedule their first primary-care provider appointment. In October 2015, 3,900 appointments were cancelled in one week, and some veterans reported that they were harmed because of the prolonged wait to see a doctor. Additionally, the VA Office of the Inspector General found that 215 veterans have died while awaiting medical consultation requests.
My staff and I frequently meet with frustrated constituents about the bureaucratic delays at the PVAHCS. Many veterans seek congressional intervention from my office because of their struggles to schedule medical appointments in a timely manner, and their inability to receive medical evaluations and treatment in a satisfactory way. In one case, one of my constituents is on the verge of losing her leg because of the bureaucratic and costly delays that the VA has placed on the family.
It is unacceptable that a scandal like this came at the expense of Arizona veterans. Our veterans deserve better.
Has the situation improved?
The problems persist. Some of my constituents continue to wait more than a month to obtain a doctor’s appointment – even though they have urgent medical needs. Imagine the agony of waiting.
A recent report from the VA indicates that the Phoenix VA remains a high-risk center, meaning that the access to, and quality of, care is below average and has seen insignificant improvement since the 2017 assessment. While many other health care systems around nation have shown significant improvement in quality of care, the Phoenix VA still fails to provide the high-quality service that our veterans deserve.
Fingers get pointed. People get fired. Congress passes laws. But we face the same old challenges.
We need real transformation.
What am I doing about it?
To increase congressional oversight and help my constituents navigate the VA bureaucracy, I introduced the Phoenix VA Congressional Oversight Act. This legislation helps the Arizona congressional delegation address some of the challenges that are impeding progress at the PVAHCS.
Specifically, the act creates a pilot program, which establishes a dedicated, full-time congressional relations team and allows Members of Congress to provide veterans services inside the PVAHCS. It also requires a report from the VA Secretary on the findings of the pilot program, including whether the program should be expanded to other regions in the country.
What are they saying?
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Department of Arizona, is very much engaged in developing more comprehensive and responsive systems – and means – within the Veterans Administration (VA) Health Care System to deal with the direct, real time health treatment, management, and processing for patients. These needs are vital processes between the provider and the patient that enable the best health care outcome. I believe that Congress's oversight role is tied directly to, and a critical component of, the provider's ability to make smart personal treatment decisions based on individual needs rather than predetermined checklist filters.
"A key provision of all three of those needs is for the patient to be able to access those entities that are directly responsible for accessing the system and who have the authority to make more personal responses to individual issues within the system. I believe that the ‘Phoenix VA Congressional Oversight Act’ is a good first step to making such a provision within the VA Health Care System a reality. Therefore, the VFW, Department of Arizona, is pleased to endorse the act." – Jim Ellars, National Legislative Officer – Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Arizona.