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Begich at VA Hearing: No Excuse for Failing our Veterans

Demands Shinseki Holds Agency Accountable

At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) hearing today U.S. Senator Mark Begich stated in no uncertain terms that the Veterans Administration (VA) must be held accountable at all levels for alleged service delays that may have prevented some veterans from receiving lifesaving health services. 

“Our nation’s veterans have stepped up and offered their service, and in some cases, their lives,” said Begich.  “We, as a nation, are responsible for providing these veterans with the best care available.  Let me be perfectly clear; if the VA has failed in its obligations to provide health services, it must be held accountable at the agency level and at the individual level.”

Begich asked VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki directly if anyone had been fired as a result of recent reports and went on to explain that failing to directly address the problem is unacceptable.

Sen. Begich makes opening remarks, excerpt immediately below, during today’s
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the VA health care system.

“To not have the service delivered at the highest level for our veterans is a disservice,” said Begich, addressing his comments to Secretary Shinseki.  “They earned it, they fought for this country, they served our country and we need to do everything we can to make sure their services are delivered at the highest level.  Today will be contentious. No question about it.  I was outraged…it was unbelievable what I’ve seen over the past few weeks. But I’m anxious to work with you to make sure we do everything we can so our veterans get the best care possible.” 

While Begich expressed his continued support for Shinseki, noting that consistency in the position is important and that the Alaska VA system has seen important signs of progress after years of Begich demanding improvements, he insisted that no time be wasted on identifying the greater system-wide problems and resolving them. 

“There is absolutely no excuse for anyone at the VA to deliberately give misleading information or failing to report problems with delivery of care to our veterans,” said Begich. “In Alaska, we have more veterans per capita than any other state and 80% of our communities are off the road system – we know a thing or two about the challenges of delivering quality care. But we have identified the problems, demanded answers, and have been working tirelessly to address them – that’s why we have seen important progress for our veterans back home. If you can do it in Alaska, you can do it anywhere.”

At the hearing, witnesses described disturbing accounts of poor patient care at VA clinics including allegations about wait lists and patient deaths at the Phoenix VA.  The issue of “secret lists” for care in Phoenix and the possibility of similar lists at other VA hospitals around the nation was the main issue of today’s hearing. 

The panel of witnesses included representatives from the VA including Secretary Shinseki, members of several veteran service organizations who discussed their members’ experiences with VA health care services, and witnesses from the Inspector General’s (IG) office, the Government Accountability Office, and the National Association of the State Directors of Veterans Affairs. 

“I wasted no time in demanding more information following the news around ‘secret lists’ in Phoenix,” said Begich. “I will continue to use my position on the Veterans’ Affairs committee to demand information and accountability in order to make sure that our veterans are receiving timely, quality care – because that is what we have promised them.”

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