Sanders Assesses VA Implementation of Reform Law

BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 2 – As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs implements a new VA reform law, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) praised “aggressive” efforts to eliminate long waiting times for medical appointments.

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs chairman also said the law giving the VA new powers to fire managers who covered up delays should be implemented “as aggressively as possible” in a way that does not jeopardize potential criminal cases.

As part of a recruitment drive to bring more health care professionals into the VA, Secretary Robert McDonald recently joined Sanders at the University of Vermont and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. They spoke to medical students about how the new law Sanders steered through Congress in August included $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other health care providers. The law doubled to $120,000 the amount of student loans VA will cover. 

“If the VA is going to be the strong and excellent health care system our veterans deserve, we must attract the best and brightest medical and nursing students into the department,” Sanders said in a letter to McDonald.

Regarding the VA secretary’s new powers to discipline managers who lied or manipulated appointment records, Sanders said those officials must be held accountable.  “Every member of the U.S. Senate believes that those VA employees who lied or manipulated data and further exacerbated veterans’ inability to access health care must be held accountable for their actions.  In my view, the VA must act as aggressively as possible in removing those officials from their positions.” 

Sanders added, however, that it is his understanding that ongoing investigations by the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice and Office of Special Counsel must be completed in some instances before disciplinary actions may be taken. 

“While we want the VA to act in a timely manner to punish employees who have acted dishonorably, it is imperative that the VA get these personnel actions right – by building an effective case to do so. The last thing we want is to undermine law enforcement’s efforts to complete their work as well,” Sanders wrote to McDonald.

To read the letter, click here.