Cumberland Times-News

February 10, 2014

Had enough

Congress ready to clamp down on VA

Cumberland Times-News

— There is something wrong — if not audacious — when Congress makes as many as 100 requests for Veterans Administration information but is ignored.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, more than 100 congressional requests for information, some more than a year old, have gone unanswered by the agency that cares for 8.75 million veterans.

Much of the discontent expressed by members of Congress — both Democrat and Republican — centers on whether the VA is taking responsibility for errors and whether it should continue to reward its leadership with bonuses despite poor performance.

The Journal said Congress is now poised to impose legislative penalties on the VA. Last week the House approved a bill to impose a five-year ban on bonuses for senior VA executives. The Senate also is considering such a penalty, although now as harsh as the five-year ban. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) says he plans to introduce legislation making it easier to fire or demote hospital directors and other executives whose performance falls short.

Maryland’s two senators recently took up their own grievance with the VA, complaining that since 2011 they have pressed the VA to put into place a plan to deal with backlog and quality issues at the VA’s Baltimore Regional Office. The Government Accountability Office said 84 percent of claims at the Baltimore office exceed 125 days, with an average wait of almost one year. In a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the two senators said the delays are inexcusable.

In their defense, VA officials say  they have answered more than 85,000 information requests in the past four years, including letters, demands for congressional testimony and questions for the record. They say the agency has spent less on bonuses than allowed by law.

We can only imagine that the 85,000 information requests are a reflection on the overall lack of quality service by the VA. Rather than delaying and posturing, the agency needs to do an overall revamping to fix the many concerns being raised by Congress.