Politics & Policy

To Reform the VA, Congress Must Lead by Example

Lawmakers should get their health care only from the VA. Then they’ll be in a hurry to fix the substandard treatment.

No veterans should go without quality health care after the sacrifices they have made for our country. . . . The way our veterans have been treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a crime. . . . We are morally bankrupt as a nation if we cannot care for our veterans.

We all have heard elected officials make these statements. At this point, they have become platitudes. If a poll were conducted, 100 percent of Congress would agree with them. But despite the rhetorical consensus on providing care for our veterans, VA care has not improved adequately. Over the years, seven different programs have been created that allow veterans to seek care outside of VA hospitals, but veterans are still dying as they wait for care, getting shuffled around and lost in the bureaucracy.

If there is such wide support to fix the VA, why do these problems persist? There are many reasons. Chief among them is that the VA and their special-interest enablers have not been held accountable despite congressional reforms being signed into law.

We think it’s time for Congress to put their money where their mouth is — hence the introduction of the Lead by Example Act in the House of Representatives. The Lead by Example Act would do one simple thing: Make it so that members of Congress and their staff can receive health care only from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans know the struggle of waiting months to receive a routine checkup or common surgical procedure. Talking with many veterans, we’ve learned that they want their members of Congress to stand with them in solidarity until this problem is fixed for America’s finest.

Once members of Congress have to wait months for routine checkups or common surgical procedures, I’m guessing it won’t take long for them to see the desperate need to fix the problem.

RELATED: Needed: Reform at Veterans Affairs

When this bill receives a vote, we will have a clear count of members who actually want to fix the VA — and who are willing to put their own health care on the line to do so. The rhetoric of many members of Congress suggests they are ready to fix the VA, but when push comes to shove, knowing of the continued stories of access problems, will they be prepared to place themselves on VA care? In an ideal world, our veterans would be receiving care of such a high quality that members would actually want to get on the system. But right now, we have it backwards.

Even though it’s no longer on the front page of our newspapers every day, the VA is still broken. Just this past summer, more stories surfaced about veterans dying because of delayed care. Another shocking story came to light when a veteran committed suicide by lighting himself on fire in a VA parking lot because he had been denied timely care. These acts of desperation are cries for leadership; Congress must lead by example and answer that call.

Instead of simply continuing to make promises to fix the VA, we urge Congress to truly stand with our veterans in solidarity. After all the sacrifices veterans have made for our nation, it’s the least Congress can do.

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