- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sen. Tom Coburn, a doctor, said in Republicans’ weekly radio address Saturday that the problems at the VA go beyond the long wait times, and include substandard care that’s led to veterans’ deaths.

“It is unacceptable that the men and women who bravely fought for our freedom are losing their lives, not at the hands of terrorists or enemy combatants, but from neglect by the very government agency established to take care of them,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

Mr. Coburn was one of the earliest lawmakers to call attention to health care problems at the Veterans Affairs Department, and had tried to force the issue to the Senate floor in a debate on veterans in February. But Democrats blocked Republicans from offering any amendments, effectively shutting Mr. Coburn down.

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He said Saturday that Democrats have repeatedly ignored warnings from internal VA investigators about secret wait-lists, and said Democrats, control the Senate chamber, should have been doing a better job of oversight of the VA.

“In the last four years, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has held just a handful of hearings touching on veterans’ health. This committee’s only responsibility is to ensure veterans are being taken care of and it has failed to do its job,” Mr. Coburn said. “Some in Congress have been far more preoccupied with making new promises rather than fulfilling the promises already made.

After initial reports, government investigators have confirmed that veterans have gotten stuck on inappropriately long wait lists, and sometimes were shuttled onto secret wait lists or dropped from appointment lists entirely.

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This week the Senate passed a bill that would let veterans stuck in long VA waiting lines get treatment at a non-VA hospital.

Mr. Coburn said that was a start, but that more is needed.

He said next week he will release a report that details fundamental problems with a department where veterans aren’t always the priority: Construction costs have skyrocketed, deadlines for building new facilities are missed, and VA employees “sometimes disappear from work for weeks at a time while veterans cannot get their phone calls answered or returned.”