As Americans, we have the humble responsibility to care for our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. As our men and women from both the active service and the National Guard return home from fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world, they will join other generations of selfless veterans who fought before them. I will continue working to ensure they receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. 

The 2014 scandals within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uncovered systemic failures in leadership and accountability within the VA. What first began as allegations of a secret wait list and 40 preventable deaths at a VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona, intensified into the VA inspector general (IG) investigating 70 separate VA facilities for possible falsification of medical records to cover up delays in care to veterans and other misconduct. Our veterans have served our country with honor and dignity, only to be told to get in line to receive treatment for the results of their service and sacrifice. There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment; our veterans deserve better.

We must hold accountable everyone who played a role in or were aware of this national embarrassment. In response to the scandals, I introduced legislation (S. 2316) to require the VA IG to investigate national wait times for veterans seeking medical appointments and treatment from the VA. With the VA’s credibility under fire, we needed a transparent and independent assessment of how far this problem had spread. I also cosponsored legislation authorizing the secretary of the VA to fire or demote any Senior Executive Service employee whose performance warrants removal, streamlining a burdensome and often prohibitive process.

In order to address the administrative failures of the VA, Congress passed comprehensive legislation to provide veterans with timely and dependable care. The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act allows veterans to access non-VA health care rather than wait for a VA appointment or travel 40 miles or more to a VA facility. I supported this legislation and have pressed the VA to smoothly implement the program in accordance with the full intent of Congress.

The VA has a solemn responsibility to be a leader in serving our veterans, especially when it comes to specialty care addressing the lasting wounds of battle. There is no reason that the men and women who served should be subjected to unacceptably long wait times or drive hundreds of miles just to see a primary doctor for the flu or receive a routine screening test. The VA’s primary focus should be to care for the men and women who have answered the call to serve, not grow its bureaucracy.

As your U.S. senator, I will continue working with my colleagues across the aisle to address the needs of our veterans and hold VA officials accountable to the men and women they serve.

The Veterans History Project is sponsored by the Library of Congress 

and serves as a collection of war-related oral histories. I interviewed my father, Harold Thune, about his experience as a World War II fighter pilot. To hear his story, as well as to find out more about the project, please click on the link to the left.

 Sections 10.a and 10.b gather information on ethnicity and race.