Army veteran Barry Coates went to a clinic run by the Veterans Affairs Department in November 2010 suffering from severe abdominal pain. He said that more than a year later, after multiple requests for a colonoscopy, he finally received the procedure — only to discover he had stage-four cancer.
Coates, who is terminally ill, testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday as part of a look by lawmakers into the rash of preventable deaths at VA clinics and hospitals. The most recent report, released earlier this week, linked 23 veterans’ deaths to delays in cancer treatment. Chairman Jeff Miller and other committee members said that number could be closer to 40.
And Miller and other House Republicans made clear Wednesday that at least one thing must be done immediately: Someone should be fired.
Miller’s legislation would make the process for firing high-ranking civil servants largely the same as firing congressional staffers — who are considered at-will employees. That would mean taking away the notification and ability to appeal disciplinary decisions currently offered.
Republicans lamented that, to their knowledge, no one tied to veteran deaths had been terminated, and that employees must be held accountable.
But while every Democratic member acknowledged that something must be done to determine how to prevent these deaths, they stopped short of backing the legislation.
“It is incumbent upon all of us here to make sure the VA is accountable,” said California Democrat Julia Brownley, who hasn’t yet thrown her support behind the legislation. And Rep. Raul Ruiz, also from California, recommended that committee members commission a study to compare preventable deaths and cases of negligence within the VA to rates within top private hospitals.
The VA is pushing back on the legislation as well. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told lawmakers last week that he has the tools he needs to make sure VA personnel are adequately doing their jobs.
And Thomas Lynch, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration, echoed those comments, saying: “I understand your concern “¦ regarding accountability.”¦ I’m troubled a little bit about whether or not firing somebody is necessarily the answer.”
But the committee’s Republicans did not budge.
Indiana Republican Jackie Walorski, whose father died of colon cancer, broke into tears while questioning Coates. She called the VA “a bureaucratic system that is broken.”
And the committee members have a powerful ally in their quest to help the VA clean house. House Speaker John Boehner told reporters earlier this month that “the secretary needs to have more authority to manage his own department. It’s as simple as that,” adding that he believes the VA is failing veterans and their families.
And though Republicans and Democrats on the committee have not come together on VA firings, they all agreed on one thing: The VA needs to be more forthcoming with Congress.
Miller said that the committee has been waiting for months on information about veterans’ deaths that are tied to VA care, and several members said that when problems at the VA arise, lawmakers are given calm and general responses versus specific ways the department is moving forward.
“It’s just my feeling and my only conclusion that I can come to “¦ is that there is something that you don’t want the public to hear,” Brownley said.
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“A bill headed for President Barack Obama this week includes a provision that would ban U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law.” The Senate approved the bill, which would also ban Internet taxes and overhaul trade laws, by a vote of 75-20. It now goes to President Obama.
Bernie Sanders has closed to within seven points of Hillary Clinton in a new Morning Consult survey. Clinton leads 46%-39%. Consistent with the New Hampshire voting results, Clinton does best with retirees, while Sanders leads by 20 percentage points among those under 30. On the Republican side, Donald Trump is far ahead with 44% support. Trailing by a huge margin are Ted Cruz (17%), Ben Carson (10%) and Marco Rubio (10%).
President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.