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Florida Delegation to Hold Hearing on VA Medical Centers

June 10, 2014 - 6:00pm
On Thursday, the Florida congressional delegation, led by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., will be holding a delegation hearing on problems at VA medical facilities across the Sunshine State. Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans.

In recent weeks, the VA department has been plagued after reports emerged of altered wait lists and other problems. After serving five years in President Barack Obamas Cabinet, Eric Shinseki resigned his post as secretary of Veterans Affairs in the aftermath of damning reports.

This week, Buchanan pointed to a VA audit unveiled on Monday that found tens of thousand of veterans have been forced to wait more than 90 days for the first appointments. The report also found that around 13 percent of VA schedulers altered wait lists and lied to veterans about wait times. The audit found average wait times at VA medical facilities in Florida usually averaged more than a month.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., said she was pleased to see facilities in South Florida were not among the top offenders when it came to altering wait lists and insisted more work needed to be done.

I am pleased to see that none of South Florida's veterans hospitals or clinics were included in those that require further audit due to questionable scheduling practices, Frankel said on Monday after the report was released. "With that said, there needs to be a careful review of all facilities to make sure that they have the policies and resources necessary to give our veterans the care that they have earned and deserve. This means that Congress has to step up to the plate and pay for the wars of recent years. It will also require expanded access to private health care providers.

In the meantime, with Floridians holding the top two spots on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the Sunshine States delegation continues to play a prominent role on the issue. Earlier this week, the full House passed U.S. Rep. Jeff Millers, R-Fla.,"Veterans Access to Care Act" which mandates VA facilities to offer non-VA care for veterans who travel more than 40 miles to reach a clinic or cant schedule appointments for two weeks. Miller is the chairman of the committee and his proposal also stops employee bonuses for the next three years.

The news about VAs delays in care crisis just keeps getting worse, Miller said on Tuesday after the House passed his bill without opposition. The recent deaths of at least 23 veterans have been linked to delayed VA medical care. Another 35 veterans have died while awaiting care in the Phoenix area alone, 57,000 veteran patients have been waiting at least 90 days for their first VA medical appointment, and an additional 64,000 veterans appear to have been denied appointments after requesting them. I cannot state it strongly enough this is a national disgrace. But for our veterans it is something more a national emergency. I appreciate the urgency that House leadership displayed in moving this crucial legislation so quickly. I hope the Senate will move swiftly on similar legislation so VA can begin to restore trust with the veterans it is charged with serving.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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