Udall In Appropriations Subcommittee: VA Must Restore Accountability, Protect Whistleblowers

U.S. SENATE News:
 
WASHINGTON, D.C.  Thursday July 30, during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall continued to press for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to improve care for New Mexico veterans in the wake of the appointment scheduling scandal and unacceptable delay in processing a backlog of benefit claims.
 
Udall questioned two VA whistleblowers about consequences they suffered after coming forward and the need for a strong VA Inspector General (IG).

Last year, Udall helped lead the call in Congress to investigate VA whistleblower claims about scheduling gimmicks and long wait times at the Albuquerque VA hospital and elsewhere across the country. He has continued to push to correct the scheduling problems and improve care for veterans in New Mexico. 

“Because of whistleblowers, Congress was able to take action,” Udall said. “The changes made to veterans care in the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act were a direct result of information provided to Congress and the media from brave current and former employees at the VA. Congress sent a strong message that VA employees who manipulated scheduling and other data will be held accountable, and we must keep a close eye on the VA even when the headlines fade away. New management in New Mexico and at the national level, along with new policies, have helped to put the VA back on course. But there is still more to do.”

Below are Udall’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery: 

What happened last summer at the VA was a betrayal of our veterans. Veterans in New Mexico are under the same regional office as Phoenix. Veterans in the state put their lives on the line for our freedom, and the events over the past year eroded the trust they have in the VA and our solemn promise. We must ensure the recent scheduling scandal is never repeated.

However, we must note, that it was because of whistleblowers—who blew the lid on the systematic problems at the VA—that we were able to work together in Congress to address those issues. My office has worked alongside VA staff and veterans in New Mexico to refer complaints to the IG, but this process is eroded when whistleblowers are silenced. When that happens, Congress and the veterans we serve are given a disservice.  

Because of whistleblowers, Congress was able to take action. With the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, Congress sent a strong message that VA employees who manipulated scheduling and other data will be held accountable. 

New management in New Mexico and at the national level, along with new policies, have helped to put the VA back on course. But there is still more to do.

So long as mismanagement and reprisals continue, we must continue to do more. We have a duty to ensure that our veterans get the best possible care. And that when whistleblowers expose problems in care, that the people are protected and the problems are fixed. I have met with Secretary McDonald and have worked with him to address these systematic problems and restore a culture of transparency and accountability.

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