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Public Statements

Nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be Secretary of Health and Human Services

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise to discuss important veteran and VA issues--issues we are all properly focused on like a laser beam right now--and I will be joined over the next several minutes by Senators Rubio, Inhofe, and Heller, who share all of my concerns.

I have been coming to the floor pretty relentlessly--because apparently that is what is necessary--to talk about one specific priority with regard to veterans in Louisiana; that is, moving--there is no good reason we can't move--on expanding outpatient clinics that are overdue in 27 locations and in 18 States, including 2 new expanded outpatient clinics in Louisiana, specifically in Lafayette and Lake Charles. These clinics have been planned for, on the books, and paid for for several years now. They are not being built, they are not being moved into purely because of an administrative glitch at the VA that delayed the whole process by a year. Then, in that intervening year, a so-called new scoring issue came up on Capitol Hill at the CBO. We have blown through all of that. We have solved those problems, finally, after a lot of delay. We have solved those problems, and now there is absolutely no reason to not take up a bill that has been passed by the House, put a simple amendment on the bill and pass it through the Senate, and get on with building these new and necessary expanded VA clinics at 27 locations around the country, in 18 States, obviously including the State of Louisiana. There are two locations there, as I mentioned--in Lafayette and Lake Charles.

I again take the floor in the context of this much broader VA scandal to urge us to come together and act in this simple but important way. I have been coming to the floor to urge this action for months now--well before this current VA scandal erupted. But I think that new context of this national VA scandal makes bipartisan action on this and anything else we can agree on more necessary than ever. So I again urge all of my colleagues to come together to get this simple but important work done and to continue to work on all of the other very necessary changes we need at the VA.

In terms of these 27 outpatient clinics, there is no disagreement about this. A bill has been passed through the House--with one dissenting vote--to get this done. It sits in the well of the Senate. There is no objection to the merits of the bill as long as we add one perfecting amendment that has been worked out with every Member of the Senate. There is no substantive objection to that. However, it has been held up and objected to by Senator Sanders, the head of the veterans committee, purely because he wants to use it as leverage to pass his much broader veterans bill on a host of other topics.

As I have said many times before, those other topics are very important. Those broader topics have only been underscored in the last few weeks with this developing VA scandal. We need to address many areas, but we shouldn't hold veterans hostage and we shouldn't hold up progress in any area we can agree on simply to create a hostage to try to forge movement in these other areas.

In fact, in terms of that general proposition, I think Senator Sanders agreed with me. Back on November 19 of 2013, Senator Sanders adopted and endorsed this approach with regard to other matters. There was another set of work on other veterans issues, and issues were worked out so that a specific proposal could move forward by unanimous consent. Senator Sanders came to the floor and basically said: Yes, let's agree on what we can agree on. Let's move forward with what we can move forward on.

I am happy to tell you that I think that was a concern of his.

He was speaking about another Senator on this other veterans issue.

We got that UC'd last night. So we moved that pretty quickly, and I want to try to do those things. Where we have agreement, let's move it.

Senator Sanders was urging us, particularly in the context of the overall VA scandal and VA mess: Let's start acting. And where we have agreement, let's move it.

We are not going to solve every veterans problem in one bill overnight, but we can start. A bite at a time, a step at a time, we can start to do positive work, and these 27 clinics in 18 States are very positive, very concrete.

So where we have agreement--and we have complete agreement in this area--``let's move it''--a direct quote from Senator Sanders from late last year. I am sorry to say that Senator Sanders is not allowing us to move it. We have absolute agreement on the substance of these clinics. We can call that bill off the calendar right now. We can put the perfecting amendment on it. There is absolutely universal agreement on the substance of that bill with that amendment. But we are not moving it, apparently because he wants to use that as some sort of leverage for other VA proposals. I want to work on those proposals, but where we have agreement, let's move it.

Veterans want us to come together in a bipartisan way. They want us to act not in a month or a year, not after more and more studies, they want us to start to act now where we can, where we have agreement.

I think it is very important that we act. It is very important that we do so in a bipartisan way. This is one focused area where that is possible immediately, today, so I urge us all to do that.

There are other areas where we need to act. Senator Sanders is in discussions with many of us, being led on the Republican side by Senators Burr and McCain. I hope that broader agreement comes together. I hope it comes together very soon. I have been assured by both sides--by Senator Sanders on the Democratic side and Senators Burr and McCain on the Republican side--that certainly this clinic issue will be included in any such agreement. But let's come together here and now where we have agreement--and we do on these clinics. Let's act for veterans as soon as we can, and we can right now with regard to these clinics.

I urge us to adopt that positive, commonsense approach: Act where we have agreement, immediately. Build consensus and continue to work on those areas where there is continuing discussion, and act and build agreement and build consensus as quickly as we can in those other areas. I urge us to do that as soon as we can, wherever we can, whenever we can, and that can start today--if Senator Sanders will let us--with regard to these 27 expanded outpatient clinics in 18 States.

I see Senator Heller has joined us on the floor, and I will defer to him. I look forward to the comments of Senators Rubio and Inhofe as well about the broader veteran and VA challenges as well as this specific clinics issue.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I wish to applaud the work of the Senator from Nevada and echo his sentiments. I am a member of this bipartisan working group on the claims backlog. I am a coauthor of the bipartisan legislation he helped spearhead, along with Senator Casey. It is another very good example of a bipartisan consensus where we can act. We can move it. So let's come together and let's act in a responsible, bipartisan way, and let's move it. That is what veterans want. That is what veterans tell me all across Louisiana. That is what the veterans service organizations are saying.

This crisis demands action. It demands bipartisan action. This is an area where we can act now and act effectively. We should. The clinics I spoke about are an area where we can act now and act effectively in a bipartisan way. We should.

I also applaud Senator Inhofe, who may be coming to the floor, for his leadership on this clinics issue. We need to authorize those and move on with them and get that done.

I also thank Senator Rubio, who will be speaking later about the legislation he has that has already passed the House to give the leadership--the new leadership, thank goodness--of the VA the authority they need to take dramatic action when necessary, to clean house when necessary, and get people in place who are going to make a difference in that broken bureaucracy.

So let's act now, in a bipartisan way, where we can.

Again, that is absolutely possible in these areas, including these 27 outpatient clinics in 18 States, the 2 in Louisiana that I discussed.

We have complete agreement in the Senate on the substance of these clinics. We have legislation that has already passed the House. So please, Senator Sanders, release your obstacle, release your blockade. Let's move forward. Let's agree where we can agree. Let's act where we can act, here and now, and continue to work on those other vital areas where we also need agreement.

There is a common saying: Time is money. Well, in terms of what we are talking about, time can be lost lives. We have seen cases of that, documented cases of that with regard to veterans who were waiting for so long they died. Time in health care can be lost lives.

This past week, as I traveled in Louisiana, I had a townhall meeting in New Orleans, among other places, and a New Orleans police officer--a female police officer--came and told me about the case of her father who, because of a lack of attention and time lapsed in the VA system, died, literally died directly related to that. Her name is Gwen Moity Nolan, and although she has lost her father, she wants to make sure that does not happen to any other veteran's family, that what happened to Richard Moity does not happen to others. Her case was looked at by the VA, and they admitted fault, they admitted negligence, and they actually reached a substantial settlement with her over their lack of attention to her father. But she really wants to make sure that does not happen to any other veteran's family. She came to me pleading: Can you make sure they have taken the necessary steps to fix those problems in the New Orleans VA?

So I have written to the VA and said: I want to see the results of that investigation with regard to Richard Moity. You say you have taken corrective action? I want to understand exactly what that corrective action is.

Time is money? No. In this case, time can be lost lives--the life of Richard Moity, the lives of veterans in Arizona, the lives of veterans around the country for whom inattention, delay, and lack of responsiveness in the VA system meant lost lives.

So let's not delay here in the Senate. Where we have agreement, let's move, let's act. We have agreement on these clinics. We have agreement on action to address the VA backlog Senator Heller talked about. Let's act. Let's move because delay can lead to serious consequences in health care, even the loss of life.

I thank Senators Inhofe and Rubio, who may be coming to the floor later to talk about these issues, for their determined work. I look forward to moving on this issue. I look forward to Senator Sanders hopefully reaching agreement on a broader set of proposals, including this clinics issue, in the very near future, and if not, I will be back to the floor demanding action on these clinics within a few days.

I yield the floor.

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