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Gus Bilirakis Focuses on Veterans Issues, Reforming the VA

April 6, 2017 - 10:00am
Gus Bilirakis
Gus Bilirakis

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., continued to focus on veterans affairs this week, taking to the House floor on Tuesday to make the case for a proposal he brought out last week and returning to it on Wednesday to discuss reforming VA services. 

Last week, Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced the  VA Guidance for Organizational Reform and Data Integrity for Accountability Needs Key for Necessary and Optimal Transformation (“GORDIAN KNOT”) Act. Legend has it that the Gordian Knot was a puzzle based in Phrygia and, whoever would untie the knot, would be the master of Asia. Confronted with the knot, Alexander the Great cut it apart with his sword. 

According to Bilirakis’ office, the proposal “focuses on key areas of improvement within the agency, like enhancing the transparency of data collected and reported, and ensuring greater accountability overall.”

Bilirakis took to the House floor on Tuesday to make his case for the bill.    
 
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to highlight legislation I recently introduced, the VA GORDIAN KNOT Act, which would help improve and reform the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” Bilirakis said. “In Greek mythology, the Gordian Knot represents a complex problem that needs out-of-the-box thinking to solve. The VA’s Gordian Knot is its repeated manipulation of key data and overall lack of accountability. The VA has been known to yield less than truthful information when it comes to collecting and reporting data about patient care, appointment wait-times, and employee hiring and firing practices. This behavior is an erosion of public trust and a disservice to our nation’s veterans.  It also makes it difficult to properly address the VA’s shortcomings and enhance its successes. 
 
“The VA GORDIAN KNOT Act requires the VA to standardize its data collecting and reporting mechanisms, and increases oversight of the integrity and accuracy of the information,” Bilirakis continued.  “I believe this bill is absolutely necessary to reform the VA and assist in its mission to care for our true American heroes. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield back.” 

The Veterans Affairs Committee met on Tuesday and Bilirakis pressed VA officials about the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), a service for veterans contemplating suicide or dealing with other problems. 

Bilirakis pointed to reports from the VA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office which found the VCL often was busy or took 30 minutes to reach. The reports also found that some of the VCL staffers were not trained properly. 

At the committee meeting on Tuesday, Bilirakis stressed the importance of the VCL. 
 
“It’s a sobering statistic: an average of 20 veterans die by suicide each day,” Bilirakis said. “The Veterans Crisis Line is the VA’s first line of defense for veterans during their darkest moments, and we must make sure it is working at the optimal level to save lives. Today’s hearing was an important step to ensure the VA is working to solve the serious problems we’ve identified with the VCL. This is a matter of life or death. The stakes are too high for even one call to go unanswered.”

Bilirakis took to the House floor again on Wednesday to go to bat for the Veterans Choice Program. Set up in 2014, the program, which allows veterans to use health care providers outside the VA, was set to expire in August. With Bilirakis supporting it, the House voted for a bill to extend it.

“While the Veterans Choice Program is by no means perfect, many of the men and women who wore our nation’s uniform rely on it for increased access to quality health care,” Bilirakis said on the House floor.  “I strongly support S. 544 because veterans should have certainty that their care will continue, and I am optimistic that our efforts to reform and build upon the Choice Program will yield positive results going forward.” 
 
The bill has passed the Senate and is now headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. 


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