U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, congratulated President Donald Trump on his inauguration and sought his support to continue to prioritize serving our nation’s veterans. In a letter, Moran highlights the unfortunate reality veterans in Kansas and across the country face as they county to struggle accessing the benefits they deserve through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dear President Trump:
I write to congratulate you on your election victory and inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. I look forward to working with you during your presidency, particularly as it relates to serving our nation’s veterans. During your campaign and transition to the Office of the President, you offered compelling reasons and proposals to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I hope to be your ally as we work to make certain our nation’s heroes receive the respect, care and benefits they have earned.
With your nomination of Dr. David Shulkin to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I want to make you aware of the primary issues facing veterans in Kansas and my intention to work with Dr. Shulkin to prioritize and remedy these issues.
Veterans continue to struggle accessing healthcare through the VA. Far too often, veterans from rural areas are required to travel several hours and hundreds of miles to access healthcare from a VA medical facility. Despite the passage of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act) and subsequent updates to the law, the VA denies veterans access to care for simple treatments, such as a shingles vaccination, that they could easily receive from a community provider. A VA pilot program for rural veterans that I spearheaded as a Congressman, which worked extraordinarily well by allowing veterans to access health care closer to home, was the model for the Choice Act. However, bureaucratic resistance to the Choice Act within the VA led to decisions that benefitted the VA but burdened those the agency is charged with serving. I seek your leadership and assistance to right the wrongs of the VA’s improper implementation of the law and the Veterans Choice Program, which Congress intended to serve veterans who shoulder burdensome travel or delay in healthcare.
The backlog in processing veteran’s claims for benefits and subsequent appeals is unacceptable. No veteran should spend years—sometimes decades—fighting to receive benefits they earned serving our country. While there is progress in processing initial claims for benefits, much of that progress is due to expediting claim denials, resulting in an increase in the backlogs of appeals. The net effect is an even more inflated backlog that stonewalls veterans who believe the VA’s approach to their claims for benefits is, “delay, deny, until they die.”
Mr. President, as a successful businessman, you have an appreciation for accountability and that terminations for misconduct or poor performance ought to be commonplace. My hope is that you will strongly encourage Dr. Shulkin to utilize the authorities Congress gave to the Secretary to take a similar tone and hold the VA’s bad actors accountable. In my home state of Kansas, we face a horrible example of the VA’s failure to hold corrupt VA employees accountable: A physician assistant with a criminal record sexually abused veteran patients and targeted those with Post-Traumatic Stress. Instead of immediate termination when the VA learned of his actions, he was placed on administrative leave and was allowed to voluntarily retire, which permits certain benefits that he earned during the time he was abusing veterans. Unfortunately, when I called on the VA to explain how they could have hired a sexual predator and why they did not immediately fire this employee, Dr. Shulkin’s written response did not offer the thorough explanation veterans deserve. This failure to act is unacceptable, and I hope that we can work together to make certain the VA acts in the best interest of veterans.
Once again, congratulations on your inauguration, and thank you for your commitment to our nation’s veterans. I look forward to working with you to reform VA culture, improve its care for our veterans and to make the VA an agency worthy of the sacrifice of the veterans it was created to serve.