WASHINGTON, D.C. – Constituents often tell politicians to put their money – or legislation – where their mouth is.
U.S. House Resolution 307, known as the “Lead by Example Act of 2017” intends to do just that.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, in the 114th and 115th sessions of Congress, would require that all members of Congress and their congressional staff get health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, instead of through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
“If Congress would have to deal with the things vets report, there is no question things would get fixed quickly,” said Liz Payne, a spokeswoman for Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.
In 2014, it was revealed that more than 57,000 veterans had waited 90 days or longer for a medical appointment, and that 13 percent of VA medical facility schedulers falsified data to meet performance goals.
“There are major issues with the VA. Some local VAs are great, but as a whole, there are a lot of cultural problems in the leadership that prevent things from taking place (to fix the issues),” Payne said.
In the aftermath of the scandal, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which established the Commission on Care. The commission found that VA health care facilities are comparable to or better than private facilities.
It also found that they have problems with access, service and poorly functioning systems. Many veterans can testify that there is inconsistent care from facility to facility.
Some, such as Durango residents J.D. Browning and Deb Carlisle, said in letters to The Durango Herald that they are concerned that the bill would overwhelm the crowded program and take desperately needed resources away from veterans.
Tipton finds the bill interesting and hopes that it will start a more productive conversation, but he doesn’t support the idea coming to fruition.
“There’s conversations that need to take place in Congress, this is an eye-opening tactic,” Payne said.
The bill came about while Davidson was campaigning for his seat. He is a veteran, and his veteran constituents brought the idea to his attention.
Alexei Woltornist, a spokesman for Davidson, said the congressman wants to “invest Congress so (veterans) can get the results they need. Congress has to be invested to finally fix the VA.”
According to Woltornist, the veterans community has had a largely positive response.
Beyond looking at the bill to start a conversation, Tipton is co-sponsoring legislation that he hopes will make a difference in the lives of veterans.
Tipton is a co-sponsor of HR 611, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2017. The bill would provide protections for whistleblowers, make the disability benefits appeals process more efficient, reduce the firing and demotion appeals process for VA employees, and prevent VA managers from receiving bonuses if they do not treat whistleblower complaints seriously or retaliate against those employees. The bill was passed in the House in the 114th Congress but was not considered in the Senate
Tipton also co-sponsored HR 4352, the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, in the 114th Congress. The bill – now law – created a pilot program to allow veterans to schedule and confirm appointments online.
Payne, speaking for Tipton, said that they would ask members of Congress, “Would you put yourself under the care of the VA knowing all the problems? Well, then why would you have our nation’s heroes go through it?”
Shira Stein is a student at the American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.