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Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Madam President.
I stand today also with high hopes that the new leadership at the VA will bring much needed changes to a department that is clearly, quite frankly, in a shambles, failing our Nation's veterans. During his committee hearing, the nominee Robert McDonald promised to bring a high level of accountability and transparency to the VA, two characteristics that are sorely needed. This is extremely important in an agency where under the leadership of the previous Secretary it would often take months to get answers to routine questions--or in many cases you would never get answers at all.
By the end of this week I am also hopeful that besides confirming the new Secretary, we will send to the President the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act. This important legislation includes many needed reforms to the VA, including bringing that accountability to the Department and actually providing our Nation's veterans with choices about where they can receive care.
The bill also, perhaps most importantly for Louisiana, finally authorizes much needed community-based clinics around the country, including two which have been long delayed in Louisiana by pure ineptitude and bureaucratic screw-ups at the VA--clinics and expanded clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles. For 4 years I have been fighting the Washington bureaucracy tooth and nail to get these new expanded outpatient clinics. They are vitally important to Louisiana veterans who now sometimes have to drive up to 4 hours to receive services that have been promised to them much closer to their community.
The current clinics in Acadiana are overcrowded and don't offer the full range of services that these new clinics will. As I said, VA ineptitude delayed the clinics in the first place. If it weren't for their mistakes, these clinics would actually already be built. When they were finally teed up and ready to go, then the Congressional Budget Office made a ridiculous decision that again threw these clinics into limbo because of a scoring issue out of the blue. Finally in December, the House was able to pass a bill that dealt with these CBO concerns that passed 346 to 1.
Normally when a bill passes with that sort of margin the Senate will quickly pass it by unanimous consent. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
First we needed to attach an amendment to address some marginal concerns. Then even after we had done that--even after that received full agreement in the Senate, unfortunately Senate Democrats, led by the Chair of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held up the legislation basically as a hostage to try to get a broader VA package. Actually I had to come down and ask unanimous consent for the House clinics legislation six times on the floor. Unfortunately, six times Senator Sanders denied that unanimous consent. It was only after the VA scandal broke that momentum shifted and, thankfully, it looks as though we will finally pass this into law, the clinics legislation, along with this important reform bill.
When the authorization occurs, I strongly urge Mr. McDonald and the VA to streamline the process to get these two clinics built as soon as possible, given the long and arduous history of VA delays and screw-ups. The veterans of Louisiana have waited patiently, literally for years. These clinics are overdue. Let's get on with it. Louisiana veterans have had to wait for numerous delays caused by VA mistakes. The least the Department can do is to make sure these clinics are now built with the utmost haste and efficiency.
Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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