May 21, 2014
Mr. Denis McDonough
White House Chief of Staff
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. McDonough,
I am extremely concerned about the complete lack of leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I write to you about it and to highlight a very important example affecting Louisiana and 17 other states, in advance of your meeting today with Senator Bernie Sanders.
Senator Sanders currently is the only obstacle to legislation that would immediately authorize the building of twenty-seven Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC), including two in Lafayette and Lake Charles, LA. During your meeting with Senator Sanders, please urge him to drop his stubborn hold on this legislation, as his is the only objection blocking this bill from quickly passing the Senate.
Due to an unexpected change by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in how it estimates the cost of VA clinics around the country, twenty-seven clinics that are approved and ready to be built have not been authorized. Last year I spoke directly with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking him to help find a solution to this problem. I found his reaction astounding. In blatant disregard of the needs of veterans across the country, the Secretary let it be known that he would be of no help in trying to find a solution to authorize these important facilities.
The House of Representatives, however, was able to find a solution to meet CBO requirements while authorizing the clinics. This legislative solution passed the House 346-1 last December.
Since that vote, I have pushed the Senate to quickly approve this bipartisan bill. It was recently included in both Senator Sanders' Veterans Omnibus bill and in Senator Richard Burr's (R-N.C.) alternative. Also, five times I have been to the Senate floor asking for unanimous consent, and five times Senator Sanders has been the only obstacle to this legislation passing. He is holding these clinics hostage to push his veterans' bill, which forty three U.S. Senators voted against. There is not a single objection on the merit of the proposal to complete the outpatient clinics and provide care for veterans who are not able to travel hundreds of miles to a VA hospital.
With the recent travesty surrounding the VA, it's more important than ever to approve these outpatient clinics. The Obama administration must lead. The VA must lead.
In your meeting today, demand that Senator Sanders stop playing politics with veterans' healthcare and get the hell out of the way.