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WASHINGTON, DC - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor this afternoon on the bipartisan Veterans Affairs bill to improve veterans' access to health care. Below are his remarks and a link to the video:
Click here to watch the video.
“I congratulate [Rep. Jeff] Miller, the Chairman of the Committee, and [Rep. Mike] Michaud, the Ranking Member, for working together to get this done. Mr. Speaker, this bill is a result of a bipartisan agreement, and while I have some serious concerns about a number of provisions of which I’ll speak, I’m supporting it because it assigns resources to help cut down the waiting times for veterans to get the care they need and that we owe them. That must be our number one goal.
“I remain deeply outraged, as so many of us do, by what transpired in Phoenix and in other VA facilities where our wounded warriors were made to wait weeks, months, to get an appointment and receive treatment, including for serious post-deployment mental health issues. That is not acceptable. This is more than unacceptable, however. It is unconscionable. I think there's wide agreement on both sides of the aisle that any VA personnel who facilitated this wrongdoing or undermined veterans’ health care must be held accountable.
“However, Mr. Speaker, I am concerned with provisions in this bill regarding the removal of senior executive personnel. While this bill does improve on the House version by adding a twenty-one day period for appeals, it still undermines civil service protections that have been in place for decades to ensure a merit service, not a politicized patronage service. There are already strict rules in place that facilitate the swift removal of SES officials who do not perform their job responsibly, as there should be. Those protections strike the right balance between giving agencies the authority to remove personnel without trampling on the due process rights of SES employees that they need to do their job without fear of political reprisal or arbitrary removal.
“Having said that, Mr. Speaker, this bill addresses major challenges at the VA. It provides resources to ensure that our veterans can access health care at private facilities if they face a very long wait or live in rural areas far from VA doctors. It makes health care services more available and accessible to veterans through additional resources for medical and other VA personnel.
“This, of course is not a perfect bill, but, then again, I don't think I’ve ever voted for a perfect bill. But this is a good bill that moves in the right direction. And again I congratulate Mr. Miller and Mr. Michaud on their important work on this very important piece of legislation.”