Solutions to VA problems lie in care and efficiency

Brad Wenstrup
By Brad Wenstrup

The current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is in disarray. While most of the people that make up the VA system are great Americans, far too many have deviated from scruples at the expense of our veterans and taxpayers.

Despite outdated VA technology, too often we’re finding the root cause of dysfunction is VA management riddled with administrative deceit and broken promises.

While the media often has a short attention span, I will not allow our veterans to be left behind. Even before the scandalous VA practices became news, I organized a small bi-partisan group of doctors on the VA Committee who were engaging administrators concerning quality and productivity.

In the last month, I’ve hosted four Veterans Listening Sessions and toured multiple VA facilities in the 2nd district. I’ve learned firsthand the issues that veterans are facing rather than relying on the self-reported data from the VA. Many veterans reported positive experiences. Many did not.

Trust comes from honesty and accountability. Congressional hearings have been revealing. Many VA executives were essentially writing their own evaluations. Not surprisingly, not one senior executive was rated less than “fully successful” over the last four years. Accordingly, the House voted to suspend VA bonuses for the next two years.

In Congress, the House has acted. In addition to increasing access to care outside the VA, we passed the VA Management Accountability Act which would allow the Secretary to fire underperforming executives in weeks rather than years, if ever.

I am honored to serve on the VA Conference Committee, representing the House of Representatives. Our role is to negotiate the differences with the Senate over proposed solutions.

The Senate’s plan calls for $500 billion in additional spending over the next ten years, without paying for it. If more money were the answer, then the problems would have already been solved. Unfortunately, the Inspector General suggests that increased funding over the last 13 years has only proven to grow the bureaucracy, not improve care.

Since 2009, funding for the VA has increased 63%, by $66.2 billion, and 300% since 2001. More recently, the VA has been ending the fiscal year with half a billion dollars in unspent funds.

More importantly, the VA needs a systematic culture change. Caregivers are bogged down with administrative paperwork, data entry, and logistical duties that keep them from seeing more patients. VA doctors routinely see one-third to one-half the number of patients in a given time period than their private sector counterparts.

I am encouraged to see President Obama’s nominee for the VA Secretary coming from the private sector. Bob McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble leader knows how to successfully build trusted brands. Mr. McDonald understands the benefits of quality, efficiency, and productivity.

For many in the current VA system, especially administrators, the patient is viewed as a liability, rather than a welcome asset. The future of the VA will rely on quality, efficiency, productivity, and building trust with the veteran as the priority.

Much needed structural changes to our VA can significantly assure quality care, in a timely fashion, and shrink the wait times.

It is up to all Americans to assure that we live up to the promise of Lincoln: to “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

Congressman Brad Wenstrup represents Ohio’s Second District, is an Iraq War Veteran, and is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.