May 24, 2016
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) today called for Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to resign after making comments yesterday comparing long wait times for our veterans to receive care to waiting in a long line at an amusement park.
“Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land,” Blunt said. “I call on him to resign because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner. Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA.”
Yesterday, McDonald suggested that Disney does not measure how many hours customers wait in line and that the Veterans Administration should move away from wait times as a primary metric saying, "The days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring."
Blunt continued, “This is yet another misstep of many with respect to the treatment and care for our veterans. At the VA hospital in St. Louis, they’ve had eight different interim directors since 2013 and a recent assessment of the facility found 45 deficiencies in service that needed to be addressed. These concerns are all too common in VA facilities across the country and it’s time for a change.”
Last May, Blunt and Senator Claire McCaskill (Mo.) wrote a letter to the Acting Medical Center Director at the St. Louis VA to express concerns regarding the recent findings in the VA watchdog’s Combined Assessment Program report and demanded immediate steps be taken to stabilize leadership and improve veterans’ care. The CAP report contained 45 specific recommendations to correct deficiencies in areas such as quality management, environment of care, and medication management. The report indicated that the St. Louis VA ranks in the bottom quintile nationally in a number of important areas, and overall performance in some areas has declined from the previous CAP review. The St. Louis VA provides mental and physical health care services to almost 46,000 veterans each year.
Congress took some important steps to address the problems at the VA in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which Blunt cosponsored and was signed into law in 2014, but more must be done. That measure created the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek care outside of the VA if they are unable to secure an appointment within 30 days, or they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Blunt recently cosponsored the Veterans Choice Improvement Act, which would make the Choice program permanent and address some of the bureaucratic hurdles that continue hampering veterans’ access to care.
Blunt has also cosponsored the Veterans Access to Community Care Act. The measure would amend the 40-mile rule to include circumstances where the local VA facility is not able to meet the needs of the veteran. Under this bill, if the veteran lives within 40 miles of a VA facility, but that facility does not provide the care the veteran needs, then he or she is eligible for the Choice program.
In 2014, Blunt successfully included language from the Caring for America’s Heroes Act in the National Defense Authorization Act to help bring mental health treatment for the nation’s veterans and military dependents in line with the way physical injuries are treated under TRICARE. Blunt cosponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which was signed into law last year, to improve mental health and suicide prevention resources for the nation’s service members and veterans.
Blunt previously cosponsored the Mental-health Exposure Military Official Record Act to help service members and veterans better track potential exposures during military service that could later be connected to mental health and traumatic brain injuries.