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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I stand in strong support of the veterans bill we are about to vote on as well. I commend everyone who worked on it on both sides of the aisle, certainly including Senator McCain, who was here a minute ago, Senator Sanders, who is on the floor, and Senator Burr, who is the ranking Republican member of the committee.
I am strongly supporting it, mostly with three key provisions in mind--one I have been working on since well before this scandal and this crisis that has engulfed the VA broke; that is, to dislodge, to get moving on crucial expanded VA outpatient clinics in 18 States around the country, including Louisiana. Mr. President, 26 clinics; 2 of those are in Louisiana, in Lafayette and Lake Charles. Those should have been built by now. They have been on the books, they have been in the VA plan for years. Through what the VA readily admits was a bureaucratic glitch--a complete screw-up at the VA--they were delayed for a significant period of time.
There was another glitch in terms of the so-called scoring of these clinics. That required legislation, which the House passed. But that legislation, which I was spearheading in the Senate, has been balled up in the Senate.
Finally, the corrective legislation, to get moving, to get these clinics done--including in Lafayette and Lake Charles, LA--is in this bill. So I have been committed to that for months--since well before this scandal erupted.
The other two provisions I want to highlight in this bill do go directly to this scandal. One is the need to give veterans choice when they are locked into a dysfunctional system. So for the first time ever we are mandating the unparalleled choice that if a veteran is either over 40 miles from a VA facility or he or she cannot get care--an appointment--in a reasonable timeframe, then that veteran can go to a Medicare provider or another provider who is delineated in the bill to get the care he or she needs in a timely way. That is a really important reform to expand choice and really competition that I think will make the VA system better and offer veterans, when need be, important care outside the strict VA system.
The third provision I wish to highlight is to give the leadership of the VA the tools it needs to clean house, to get rid of incompetence or, worse, to fire people who clearly merit that in the cases we have been reading about in the last several months.
We have had so many protections heaped on the civil service system over 100-plus years that it has become virtually impossible to fire or demote or punish someone who is deserving of that because of incompetence or worse. We need to change that because unless and until we do, bureaucracies such as the VA will remain broken. This bill has important provisions in that regard.
Those are the three top reasons I will be strongly supporting the bill.
I thank the Chair.
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