Gardner Denounces Continued Problems at Colorado VA

Gardner: “Our veterans have honorably served this great nation. Now is the time that we step up and honorably serve them.”

Washington D.C. —Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) today spoke on the Senate floor about the need to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This speech follows an NBC Nightly News report that outlined lengthy wait times at the Denver VA.


Click here to view Gardner’s remarks.


In November, Gardner introduced the Veterans Improved Access and Care Act of 2017, legislation designed to increase access to care for our nation’s veterans and reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hiring process to make it easier to fill staffing shortages at medical facilities. The legislation expands on the success of the CHOICE Act by eliminating the 30 day, 40 mile eligibility rule, giving veterans full access to medical care regardless of their situation or location. The introduction of the legislation followed an explosive Inspector General report Gardner demanded that revealed unofficial waitlists at a number of Colorado VA facilities.


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:


Mr: President: Today I rise once again to address the troubling reports coming out of Colorado regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


It has now been over three years since the Phoenix VA catastrophe, where secret wait lists led to the deaths of veterans. At that time, the VA pledged that this problem would be fixed.


That it would never happen again. Well, Mr. President, it saddens me to say that in Denver, Colorado, that promise has been broken.


Following the Phoenix disaster, this body passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act (VA CHOICE) to expand access for veterans to community medical providers. And no doubt it has been successful in different parts of the country.


But the Denver VA system continues to post inexcusable wait times, experience a shortage of doctors and nurses, and use secret wait lists. This is unacceptable.


The average wait time for a new patient at the Denver VA for a primary care appointment has topped 42 days! This leads the nation, and is twice the national average. Our veterans deserve better, and too many have been affected by this travesty.


Last week, NBC Nightly News told the story of one Colorado veteran, Alison Bush. Alison served in the Army for seven years, and suffers from a nerve disorder.


With such a disorder, she cannot afford delayed appointments. Yet, Alison was forced to wait over THREE months for a primary care appointment, and another 60 days for an MRI.


There is absolutely no excuse for this. Alison, like so many others, answered the call of duty, only to be let down after retiring the uniform.


Now, I recognize that Colorado is witnessing an increase in demand, with more than 11 thousand veterans seeking care in the last two years.


But this is no excuse. The VA must adapt in the face of adversity. We must make changes.


And we must never forget that this nation’s number one priority MUST be our veterans!


Because of stories like Ashley’s, I recently introduced S. 2168, the Veterans Improved Access and Care Act of 2017.


My legislation would address three issues: hiring shortages, delayed wait times, and malpractice reporting.


A large driver of delayed wait times for veterans is the shortage of doctors and nurses. The current system for hiring these medical professionals is too long and too burdensome.

According to a McKinsey & Company study in 2015, it took 4 to 8 months to hire a VA employee. The on-boarding process alone can take over 3 months.


According to the same study, private medical facilities took less than 2 months to hire an applicant.


Now just think about that for a moment. Just like in the VA, a private sector applicant has to go through an interview process, a certification of credentials process, AND a background check.


Yet, the VA’s on-boarding process is longer than the private sector’s entire hiring process. It makes absolutely no sense. My legislation would take steps to fix this problem.


It would authorize the VA to establish a pilot program to expedite the hiring of doctors at facilities where there are shortages of available specialists, such as nurses or anesthesiologists.


Furthermore, it would require the Secretary of the VA to submit a report to Congress detailing a strategy to reduce the length of the VA’s hiring process by half.


My bill would also look to expand access to our veterans.


The VA Choice program, while well intentioned, still contains arbitrary rules such as a 30-day waiting period before a veteran can seek access to community providers.


Well, Mr. President, 29 days is also unacceptable.


My legislation would work to improve the CHOICE Act by eliminating the 30-day/40-mile eligibility rule, giving veterans full access to medical care regardless of his or her situation.


And finally, my legislation will work to ensure that secret waitlists are forever extinguished. 


Last November, a Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report substantiated the claim that the Eastern Colorado Health Care System used unofficial wait lists for veterans, estimating that at least 3,775 veterans were affected.


This is extremely disheartening. There needs to be accountability of such malpractice.


My legislation would do just that. It would codify the VA’s policy to expand the requirements of reporting malpractice to include ALL medical providers.


Our veterans have served our country. They have missed holidays with their families. They have suffered battlefield injuries.


They have laid it ALL on the line for you. For me. For this great nation.

The least we can do is ensure that our veterans are treated with the dignity, the respect, and the honor that they have rightfully earned.


It is my hope that the Senate VA Committee will soon take up my bill so that we can work to ensure accountability and greater access and care for all veterans.


But whether it be my legislation, or any other piece of legislation…one thing is for sure…


Something has to be done NOW. The current system is not working, and continues to let our veterans down.


Nevertheless, I am optimistic that we can deliver on the promises that we gave our men and women in uniform.


I am optimistic that we can make this right on their behalf.


But we cannot wait. Time is not a luxury that our veterans have.


So, Mr. President, I ask that everyone in this congressional body, and especially the VA, always remember the stories of veterans such as Alison Bush.


And may we never forget those who set aside their own dreams to answer the call of duty.


Our veterans have honorably served this great nation. NOW is the time that we step up and honorably serve them.


Mr. President, I yield the floor.




Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Budget Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy and Subcommittee on Energy


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