U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki calling for independent oversight of the VA’s internal audit and calling for a review of wait times for veterans in South Dakota.
“With the credibility of the VA in serious doubt and President Obama still refusing to make needed changes at the VA, we need to make sure Secretary Shinseki’s internal audit is both transparent and legitimate,” said Thune. “I want assurance that this crisis of wait times hasn’t impacted South Dakota’s veterans—including those in the Hot Springs catchment area, and I believe the Government Accountability Office can help to fairly assess that. Coupled with the nationwide inspector general investigation required in a bill I’ve introduced, we can understand just how far this problem has spread.”
In addition to the VA internal audit, the VA inspector general (IG) is conducting a limited investigation of certain VA facilities. Last week, Thune introduced legislation that would greatly expand this investigation and require the VA IG to issue a report to Congress on the wait times veterans are experiencing at VA health care facilities nationwide. Thune’s legislation would prohibit the VA from closing any health care facilities or utilizing funds to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning closures until the IG’s report is released. If the IG concludes that veteran appointments or treatments were intentionally delayed, the legislation would restrict the VA’s closing of medical facilities or using funds for an EIS until delays are resolved.
The text of the senator’s letter follows:
May 21, 2014
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki,
I write today to address the alarming allegations of preventable deaths and prolonged wait times for care within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I am profoundly concerned by these accounts and request that you take immediate action to identify and resolve this inexcusable conduct within the VA. The men and women who have answered the call to serve deserve the best care this nation can offer. It is our duty as a grateful nation to provide for those who have sacrificed.
The “face-to-face” internal audit you have ordered at all VA medical facilities is only a first step to determine how pervasive this issue has become. As you conduct this audit, I strongly encourage that you engage an independent third party such as the Government Accountability Office to ensure the legitimacy of the audit. Veterans should have no question regarding the validity of the findings and recommendations of the audit.
I believe the importance of this matter calls for additional review by the VA Inspector General (IG). Accordingly, I have called for a nationwide IG investigation to determine the full extent of prolonged wait times at VA facilities across the country and to provide recommendations for reducing the time our veterans wait for care. Providing an independent IG investigation is among the first steps that must be taken to return transparency to the VA, and as a member of the United States Senate, I will continue to pursue additional reforms that will improve the care our veterans receive at VA facilities.
As you oversee the review of your department, I request that you provide me with details concerning veteran care and wait times in my state of South Dakota. Specifically, I ask that you provide me with the average time veterans must wait between requesting care and receiving treatment at all VA facilities in South Dakota, as well as your assurance that no unofficial wait lists exist at any of these facilities. I also ask for a year-by-year timeline of how these wait times have changed over the past 10 years for each facility. Finally, please provide a detailed analysis of how the closing of the Hot Springs VA facility would impact wait times in that catchment area.
I appreciate your swift attention to this pressing matter and look forward to improving the service that our veterans have earned.Sincerely,