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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KINGSTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This bill provides $43.6 billion for medical treatment for the 6.5 million veterans today who use the VA. It increases funding for processes, such as the electronic health record system and the disability claims process, the paperless environment, and yet that's what we did last year and the year before.

Nonetheless, today, as we sit here, the VA has 865,265 claims in their backlog; 66 1/2 percent of these claims have been pending for more than 125 days. The current claim to be processed, the current amount of time is 292 days, and some offices report some claims that have been pending for 450 days.

This is not acceptable. But every year we provide more money for the VA to process claims, and every year the backlog gets more.

So what this amendment does is it takes a different approach. It takes an approach that's used in the private sector on a regular basis for compensation. It says to the senior members of the VA that if they don't have the claims backlog reduced by 40 percent by next July, the senior leadership will have a pay cut of 25 percent. Mr. Chairman, this follows their own goal. All it says is that if you don't make your own goal, there will be a 25 percent pay reduction for the senior management of the VA.

I think everyone in Congress has a VA office with problems in their own district. In Decatur, Georgia, a VA hospital that serves 86,000 patients in the State of Georgia has a backlog of over 4,000--or 4,000 patients have fallen through the cracks. Three deaths occurred over the past 2 years when the VA lost track of mental health patients and referred it to a contractor while not keeping a close eye on them while they were supposed to be monitored.

One may have committed suicide because he could not see a doctor and had an overdose of his treatment. There are other atrocities that have happened in that one VA clinic. Again, Mr. Chairman, this is not adequate. This is not acceptable. For our veterans, we need to treat them better.

I am a member of the Armed Services Committee and often say that the American soldier needs to have the best equipment and the best training that's out there because we want them to fight and win wars; but we also want them to come home and live normal lives, so we need to make sure that our treatment of the American military does not end in a theater of war but continues throughout the rest of their lives. As the claims or as the injuries that they incurred while rendering service to the Nation haunt them for the rest of their lives, we need to be there for them for their medical treatment.

This amendment sends a very strong signal to the VA that we are serious that this backlog will be cleaned up and that, if not, there will be a price to pay.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. KINGSTON. I thank the gentleman from Texas for the time.

To my friend from Georgia, who I know is just as fervent as we are in terms of cleaning up the backlog, I would say the only part with which we are in disagreement is this approach, again emphasizing that this committee has provided the adequate funding to reduce the backlog. We did it last year, and we did it the year before, and we did it the year before that.

What we are doing with this amendment is what the private sector does every single day--it bases compensation on performance. We are saying, if you don't perform to your own guidelines, there will be a compensation penalty for it.

Congress has reduced its expenses, depending on the committee, anywhere from 8 to 14 percent. We have not had a COLA in several years now. In fact, the only way the United States Senate passed a budget this year was because of an amendment that was offered, called ``no budget, no pay,'' and the House passed a budget, too, under that threat. One way you do get people's attention is to say, You have got to perform in your job or there will be a salary cut. That's all we're doing.

For the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country that we could have this debate today and that we can go about our lives tomorrow and the next day and raise families in a free and independent country, we owe it to them. A backlog of 800,000 claims is not acceptable, and we are tired of talking about it. This amendment takes the final step. We are going to make a change. We are going to get that backlog cleaned up.

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