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.
What We're Following See More »
The Signal app is fast becoming the new favorite among those who are obsessed with the security and untraceabilty of their messaging. Just ask the Democratic National Committee. Or Edward Snowden. As Vanity Fair reports, before news ever broke that the DNC's servers had been hacked, word went out among the organization that the word "Trump" should never be used in their emails, lest it attract hackers' attention. Not long after, all Trump-related messages, especially disparaging ones, would need to be encrypted via the Snowden-approved Signal.
The Republican Study Committee may lose several members of the House Freedom Caucus next year, "potentially creating a split between two influential groups of House conservatives." The Freedom Caucus was founded at the inception of the current Congress by members who felt that the conservative RSC had gotten too cozy with leadership, "and its roughly 40 members have long clashed with the RSC over what tactics to use when pushing for conservative legislation." As many as 20 members may not join the RSC for the new Congress next year.
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued emergency authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche, skirting normal approval channels as the regulator moves to fight the disease's spread." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study in Nature identifies "about a dozen substances" that could "suppress the pathogen's replication." Some of them are already in clinical trials.
According to 37 newly released audits, "some private Medicare plans overcharged the government for the majority of elderly patients they treated." A number of Medicare Advantage plans overstated "the severity of medical conditions like diabetes and depression." The money has since been paid back, though some plans are appealing the federal audits.
"GOP leaders and House Democrats are already laying the groundwork for a short-term continuing resolution" on the budget this fall "that will set up a vote on a catch-all spending bill right before the holidays." As usual, however, the House Freedom Caucus may throw a wrench in Speaker Paul Ryan's gears. The conservative bloc doesn't appear willing to accept any CR that doesn't fund the government into 2017.