Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

VA Medical Center Recovery Act Passes House

February 12, 2016
Representative Roby's Weekly Column

I’m very pleased to report that my bill to streamline improvements at failing VA medical centers and prevent future debacles has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate. 

The VA Medical Center Recovery Act (H.R. 3234) cuts through the layers of bureaucracy at the VA and puts responsibility for identifying and improving the worst performing VA medical centers squarely on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, requiring him to deploy teams of experts to turn around failing facilities.

My bill would, for the first time, require the VA to publish key metrics known as SAIL data on the federal register and would require the Secretary to report to Congress any medical centers determined to be failing. 

At the height of the VA waitlist scandal, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) that serves our area veterans became known as one of the nation’s worst. My staff and I worked with whistleblowers and the press to uncover major instances of misconduct, negligence and mismanagement inside the system. As a result, the Central Alabama VA director became the first senior VA manager fired under the new accountability law.

But, even after the leadership changes, data showed that the Central Alabama VA’s two medical centers in Montgomery and Tuskegee were ranked worst and second worst in the nation for delays in patient care. 

We had a severe problem and it required immediate action.  But, getting the attention of top VA leaders proved difficult.  Once our problems left the front page, there wasn’t a lot of follow-up.

My veterans were subject to some of the worst health care service in the country, and nobody wanted to take responsibility. 

So in July, I filed this legislation and began working with the Veterans Affairs Committee to get a hearing and a vote. I appreciate my colleagues on both sides of the aisle being receptive to my bill and helping advance it to the floor. 

Almost two years after the scandal first broke, we are making progress at the Central Alabama VA. Staffing is up and wait times are down. We are building a Community Veterans Health Network that I believe one day can be a model for the rest of the country. I am truly optimistic about the future, understanding that we still have a long way to go.

But, it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have taken a Member of Congress breathing down the necks of top VA officials to get their attention.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if our courageous whistleblowers hadn’t spoken to us? Or, what if the reporters we worked with didn’t think it was a story?

What if the truth never came out about the missing X-Rays, the falsified wait lists, the manipulated pulmonology records, or the crack house incident?

What if we hadn’t exposed all that? Would our veterans in Central Alabama still be subject to the worst health care in the country? Would we even know?

I don’t want what happened at the Central Alabama VA to ever happen again, anywhere.

The VA Medical Center Recovery Act helps ensure that by requiring key VA health metrics to be published for everyone to see and by making sure the VA officials at the very top can’t hide behind layers of bureaucracy when it comes to severely failing facilities. I look forward to working to advance my bill in the Senate.