'Breach of Trust' to Veterans 'Irresponsible, Indefensible, and Unacceptable'

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee’s ranking member, commended Gibson for taking steps to shore up the system but he added that the events represent “a horrendous blemish on VA’s reputation and much more work will be needed to repair the damage.”

Burr attributed the harm to “systemic problems and the corrosive culture that has been identified and substantiated by several independent sources.” But he further noted that the needed changes “will not happen overnight” and continued oversight is necessary to ensure the changes occur and prove to be effective.

“I want to be crystal clear -- the culture that has developed at VA and the lack of management and accountability is simply reprehensible and it will no longer be tolerated,” Burr said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the committee chairman, credited the VA with performing “a good job at providing quality healthcare to veterans – once they get into the system. In fact, they have been doing some cutting-edge work.”

But, Sanders said, “The simple reality is that the problems they face are staggering.”

Sanders said he continues to have major concerns regarding the inability of veterans in various locations across this country to access care in a reasonable period of time. An audit shows 46,236 veterans are on lists waiting to be scheduled for medical appointments and that 8,126 of them have waited over 120 days to receive an appointment. More than 636,000 veterans have an appointment that is more than 30 days from the date that the appointment was initially requested or from the date that was desired by the patient.

“This is unacceptable,” Sanders said. “VA must do much more to improve access to the VA Health Care System. We have a moral obligation to provide veterans with the timely access to the health care they need.”

But Sanders added that “the simple truth of the matter is that the VA needs more doctors, more nurses, more mental health providers and, in certain parts of the country, more space for a growing patient population. VA’s ability to provide timely care both now and in the future must be strengthened by building capacity within the system. This is done by ensuring VA has the resources, including physical space and the health care providers and support staff necessary to provide such care.”

The chairman also said he is “deeply troubled” by reports that detail deliberate retaliation against VA employees who exposed flaws within the system.

“I will not accept honest whistleblowers – who want to improve the system – being silenced or having their concerns ignored,” he said.

Sanders also took the opportunity to announce that progress is being made in a House-Senate conference committee formed to produce legislation to address the VA situation.

“I am pleased that, in reality, there are more similarities than differences between the House and Senate bills,” Sanders said. “We have been making significant progress in the last month and I believe that we can reach an agreement very soon. Millions of veterans are counting on us to do so. We can’t afford to make them wait any longer for the care and services they have earned and deserve."