VA Reform is a Top Priority in New Congress
This week, I returned to Washington to be sworn in to the 115th Congress. Serving East Tennesseans in Congress is a true privilege, and I’m honored to be given the opportunity to lead the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee as chairman. This is not a responsibility I take lightly and I realize there is much work to be done on behalf of our heroes, which is why House Republicans didn’t waste any time getting started. In the first days of the new Congress, House Republicans reaffirmed on our commitment to veterans by passing two important bills to bring accountability to the VA and ensure veterans are receiving the highest quality care available.
I was glad to author the Biological Implant Tracking and Veterans Safety Act. This commonsense legislation will ensure veterans who receive tissue or implants at the VA do not receive anything that may be contaminated. While this seems like a no-brainer, a January 2014 GAO report found that the VA does not use a standardized process for tracking biological tissue from cadaver donor to living veteran recipient. In the event of a recall, it would often be impossible to track down which patient received contaminated tissue.
The same GAO report detailed the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) failure to consistently ensure they are purchasing tissue from biological implant vendors that have registered with the FDA. Additionally, the VHA does not maintain an inventory system to keep the expired tissues from remaining in storage alongside unexpired tissues. At least two companies that supply large amounts of human tissue to the VA have repeatedly received warnings from the FDA because they possess contaminated tissue and use sub-standard sterilization practices. This is outrageous; the six million veterans served annually by the VHA have earned the highest standard of patient care in the country. The Biological Implant Tracking and Veterans Safety Act will ensure veterans do not receive contaminated tissue by requiring the VA to adopt the same system for tracking implants and tissue used within the private sector.
The House also passed the Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act. This bill, introduced by Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), would require all reprimands and admonishments given to VA employees to remain in their file as long as they are employed by the Department. Under current policy, an admonishment and reprimand can only stay on an employee’s record for two and three years, respectively. Particularly in instances we’ve seen in recent years of serious abuse or mismanagement, the VA must take more significant action than temporary discipline. This is simple: if a VA employee fails in their duties to provide services to our veterans, the VA should document these failures and the employee should be held accountable.
As I’ve said time and time again, I know the vast majority of VA employees get up and go to work every day with the sole intention of serving our veterans. It’s unfair to these hardworking men and women that the Department continually refuses to hold bad actors accountable. As Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I will work with my colleagues in the House and Senate, as well as President-elect Trump and the Trump administration, to fundamentally change the way the VA does business.Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.