Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, it has been almost 2 months since allegations that some 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA were first made public. Since that report, we have learned of similar allegations of gross mismanagement and data manipulation at 42 VA medical facilities across the U.S. More troubling, according to the Office of the Inspector General's preliminary report, 1,700 veterans in the Phoenix VA Health Care System who thought they were about to receive care were never even placed on the VA's Electronic Waiting List and are ``at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS's convoluted scheduling process''. Today, it is clear that delaying medical care and manipulating records to hide those delays in care is systemic through the Department of Veterans' Affairs health system. This has created in our veterans' community a crisis of confidence toward the VA--the very agency that was established to care for them.
Today, I joined Senators COBURN, BURR, and FLAKE to introduce the Veterans Choice Act of 2014. This bill would, principally, empower veterans with greater flexibility when choosing their medical care and increase transparency and accountability within the VA to ensure that it delivers quality care to our veterans in a timely manner. Specifically, it would give veterans the option to go to a different doctor if the VA can't schedule an appointment within a reasonable time or if the veteran lives too far away from a VA medical facility. Additionally, this bill would prohibit scheduling or wait-time metrics/goals from being used as factors to determining performance awards or bonuses. It would also require the Secretary of the VA to punish employees who falsify data, including civil penalties, suspension or termination. And, empower the Secretary of the VA to remove any top executive at the VA if the Secretary determines that his performance warrants removal.
Put simply, unlike some other proposals that have been made to reform how the VA delivers care, this bill would squarely address the root causes of the tragic circumstances that have brought us to this point.
For almost all this century, Americans have been fighting in faraway places to make this dangerous world safer for the rest of us. They have been brave. They have sacrificed and suffered. They bear wounds and mourn losses they will never completely recover from--and we can never fully compensate them for. But, we can care for the injuries they incurred on our behalf and provide for their physical and emotional recovery from the battles they fought to protect us. Quality care for our veterans is among the most solemn obligations a nation must pay, and we will be judged by God and history by how well we discharge ours.
Indeed, we must be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf How we care for those who risked everything for us is the most important test of a Nation's character. Today, we are failing that test. We must do better tomorrow. Much better.
For the 9 million American veterans who depend on the VA for their health care, and for the families whose tragic stories we have heard over the last two months, who I know are still grieving their losses, it is time to provide our veterans with the care, choice, and accountability that they so rightly deserve. I am pleased to be associated with the bill Senator BURR, Senator COBURN and Senator FLAKE introduced today, which would help the nation achieve those laudable, necessary goals. I urge my colleagues--on both sides of the aisle--to support it.