WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn issued a scathing criticism of the nation’s health care system for veterans saying his year-long investigation found far deeper problems than bogus wait lists that have recently made headlines.
“The report we issued today … paints a dismal picture of the VA,” he said Tuesday. “If you take the time to read it you will become incensed.”
In his report, Coburn is also critical of Congress for failing to provide proper oversight of the VA.
“Congress has ignored its oversight role because it requires hard work — asking tough and often uncomfortable questions of government officials, examining budgets, listening to whistleblowers and constituents, and standing up against special interest groups,” Coburn said.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, conceded that Congress could do more to oversee the agency.
“We need to do much better oversight,” he said.
Boozman, however, said that it is a large agency that has seen its responsibilities grow tremendously given the number of injured military personnel returning from combat.
“I don’t think anybody realized the tremendous drain we would put on the system as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
Boozman said that the Arkansas delegation is focused on ensuring that the VA is delivering high quality care to veterans in the state. Much of the feedback they receive is positive about the quality, he said.
Coburn’s report is based largely on investigations from the VA inspector general, Government Accountability Office and media reports.
It found that more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA misconduct over the past decade. The VA has also paid out nearly $1 billion to veterans and families for malpractice, he noted.
The report comes as members of the House and Senate gathered for the first time to reach a compromise on competing VA reform bills that the chambers approved separately in response to a scandal over false record-keeping used at some VA facilities to hide long delays in veterans getting care.
Both the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate support allowing veterans to seek health care outside the government’s VA system if they are unable to get timely appointments. They differ on other matters, particularly funding for additional staff.
Coburn is one of the negotiators — and is stressing the need for structural reforms rather than simply providing additional funds to VA.
“What we need is leadership,” he said during the conference committee meeting.