Town Halls, Serving Veterans and Reforming VA
I want to begin this week’s column by thanking the constituents who came out to participate in my town hall in Greeneville on Monday evening. We had a productive and respectful discussion, and I look forward to holding more of these in the future. I’ve held more than 40 in-person town halls. Monday wasn’t my first town hall meeting and it certainly will not be my last. Health care reform was a hot topic of conversation, and during the town hall House Republicans released our plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered health care reform. I’m proud of this promise kept. You can read that bill at readthebill.gop and I look forward to debating this bill in Congress and hearing your feedback. In addition to health care reform, veterans’ issues were also a topic of interest, and I want to update you on the steps I’m taking to begin reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Reforming the VA is a top priority for me as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. We must work in a bipartisan way to ensure veterans have timely access to the care and services they earned through their service, and that the bad apples within the department are held accountable for their performance when they fail our nation’s heroes. On Wednesday, I chaired a committee markup to approve my bill to bring much-needed accountability to the VA. You can read a full description of this bill at veterans.house.gov/accountability.
We’re fortunate to have a top-notch VA Medical Center at Mountain Home in the First Congressional District. I personally know many of Mountain Home’s employees, and I know these men and women, many of whom I consider friends, work tirelessly to provide quality care to veterans. I’ve said time and time again, and wholeheartedly believe, that the vast majority of VA employees are good, hard-working men and women who do everything in their power to serve our veterans with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, the VA employees who act carelessly and refuse to change are tainting the reputation of the many employees who get up every day and go to work to do the right thing. It’s unfair to those good employees that bad behavior continues to go unchecked. That’s why my bill to make it easier to discipline or even fire bad employees is such an important part of VA reform.
I also chaired a hearing this week on how we improve the VA’s Choice Program, and it was a privilege to have new VA Secretary David Shulkin testify before the committee and share the Trump Administration’s commitment to put veterans in charge of their health care. We examined how the Choice program is working and discussed ways we can make it work better. I’ve heard from many veterans who have highlighted ways the program isn’t working as intended, and my priority continues to be ensuring veterans have access to quality care that meets their needs. If a veteran is happy with the care they are receiving at VA, they should be able to continue that care; however, if they are not satisfied with the care they are receiving at VA, they deserve the option to shop for care just like other patients.
Bringing reform to the VA won’t be an easy task, but there is bipartisan support in Congress for changing the way the VA does business. Small changes to the status quo and continued oversight can make a big difference in the lives of our nation’s heroes. Wholesale reform of the department will take time, but we’re already starting the process of making serious changes. I know these changes will improve the services veterans receive from VA, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make the VA the best agency it can be, the kind of agency our heroes deserve.Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.