Roby Expresses Concerns with Staffing of Alabama VA Facilities
U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL), a member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, today participated in a hearing regarding the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection’s failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Representative Roby has long been a vocal advocate for improving the services veterans in Alabama receive at VA healthcare facilities. Today, she addressed the Honorable Michael J. Missal, Inspector General of the VA, and Dr. Tamara Bonzanto, the Assistant Secretary for Accountability and Whistleblower Protection of the VA. Representative Roby highlighted the importance of whistleblowers in uncovering critical issues at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) and the urgent need for staffing improvements within the VA system. She questioned the Inspector General as to why the system is not seeing any internal change impacting the lives of Alabama’s veterans:
“Is there a disconnect between the Administration’s view of how the VA is operating and the IG’s reports on the issues, and is the Administration doing enough to implement IG recommendations?
“This [whistleblower] hearing is important because there are some VA facilities in this country that are working well and serving our veterans well. There are others that are not, and that happens to be the one in my district…There is a tremendous problem with our veterans even having the ability to be seen…It’s just not getting better…I continue to be so outraged and frustrated as to why this is not getting better…My veterans are suffering because of it.”
The full text of Representative Roby’s remarks is below.
Hello again. Madam Chair, I understand that this is a whistleblower hearing, but I’d be remiss not to take this opportunity to address a few other issues.
I will start with this and say that you are well aware [Sir] of how important courageous whistleblowers have been in uncovering the gross mismanagement and problems at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System. We’re grateful for those folks who have stepped forward. We’ve followed all the procedures to make sure that we’re getting the information in the right hands when these people come to us.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the overwhelming deficiencies in the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and the VA Medical Center in Montgomery. The IG last published a report on CAVHCS in February of 2018 where it noted that the facility had a SAIL rating of three stars and generally stable executive leadership.
Montgomery now has a one-star rating, and in the IG report released on September 30, 2019 titled, “OIG Determination of Veterans Health Administration’s Occupational Staffing Shortages,” it showed that CAVHCS continues to suffer staffing shortages. We currently have an Acting Director for VISN 7 and an Acting Director for CAVHCS.
My question is that the Director of the VA recently toured the facility in Montgomery and stated it was a three-star facility that was running well, is there a disconnect between the Administration’s view of how the VA is operating and the IG’s reports on the issues, and is the Administration doing enough to implement IG recommendations? It’s not a three-star facility, and it’s not running at the optimum performance that it could be.
You’re familiar with the Dothan clinic merger. For a long time, there was no physician even assigned to see the patients at the Dothan clinic. There is a tremendous problem with our veterans even having the ability to be seen. We have people doing two jobs. On paper, it appears as though that position is filled, but it’s an individual who is actually doing another full-time job at the same time.
Again, all this leads to the bottom line and what we all care about. This whistleblower hearing is important because there are some VA facilities in this country that are working well and serving our veterans well. There are other facilities that are not, and that happens to be the one in my district. It’s just not getting any better.
Madam Chair, I am going to take this opportunity to let you [nodding to witness] address this. I continue to be outraged and frustrated as to why this is not getting better. My veterans are suffering because of it, and you know how much I care about this [issue]. What I can do to better serve my veterans?