(Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON – Responding to a report released in October that found the Department of Veterans Affairs has been slow to make changes after the 2014 wait-time scandal, two lawmakers have introduced legislation to force the VA to speed up reform.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., introduced the VA Management Alignment Act of 2016 to the House on Wednesday. The measure would require the VA secretary to submit plans to the House and Senate veterans committees within 180 days after the bill goes into effect, detailing the roles and responsibilities of VA executives and spelling out how they would improve veterans’ access to treatment.

“This would force action on persistent problems,” Kilmer said. “After the wait-time scandal, we saw a number of good proposals sent to the VA to fix things. As the [Government Accountability Office] report makes clear, a lot of those recommendations were ignored.”

Last year, Kilmer called on the Government Accountability Office to do a comprehensive study of management problems on the health care side of the VA.

Investigators with the Office of Inspector General had previously discovered that some managers at VA hospitals instructed employees to falsify data about how long veterans were waiting for care. Since then, the agency has undergone internal and external reviews and inspections into its management practices, business processes, staffing levels and veterans’ access to care.

The reviews came at a cost to taxpayers. One of the reviews cost $68 million to perform and it was mandated by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which included an assessment of all areas of the VA’s health care delivery system.

Answering Kilmer’s request, the GAO released its report in October, stating the VA doesn’t have a process for following through with the recommendations that it receives or to effectively make changes.

The report also states without a process, there’s “little assurance” the deliver of health care will improve. It goes on to say the VA can’t confirm that it’s holding leaders accountable for making improvements.

Kilmer said he’s hopeful the legislation can pass before the end of the busy, lame-duck session, which is scheduled to end in mid-December.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to delay,” he said. “There’s bipartisan support for seeing systemic change happen within the VHA.” Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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