Sen. Tom Coburn: VA problems "much deeper" than scheduling

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., drew on his experience as a doctor and a cancer survivor Saturday to condemn the "unacceptable" delays in treatment at Veterans Affairs medical facilities, and he warned that the "problems at the VA are far deeper than scheduling."

"Just like the VA is cooking the books to make wait times appear shorter, the department is also glossing over the growing number of hospitals with poor medical outcomes," Coburn said in the weekly Republican address. "In some locations, like Boston and Pittsburgh, VA care is top notch. At others, such as at Phoenix, it is very subpar. High death rates and complication rates are occurring at more and more VA centers. And this information is not being shared with our veterans."

Coburn touted a bill, passed Wednesday by the Senate, that would reform the VA medical system by allowing veterans who live too far from VA facilities - or those who have been waiting too long for an appointment - to receive care from a doctor of their choice.

The bill would also make it easier for the VA secretary to fire employees accused of misconduct, and it would require the VA to publicly disclose medical outcomes at its facilities.

The bill, Coburn said, would ensure that bureaucrats "no longer override veterans' choices," but it's just a first step.

"Now that the Senate has passed legislation to give veterans more health care freedom, Congress must continue to do the work to improve the quality of the VA and make it a more responsive and accountable and efficient organization," he said. "And the president must nominate as secretary a capable, experienced leader who possesses the management skills, leadership ability and determination to correct the failings of the VA."

The VA scandal began intensifying in late April amid reports that linked misconduct and falsified documents at the Phoenix VA facility to dozens of deaths. After a preliminary report from the VA's inspector general confirmed the "systemic" management failures at the agency in late May, the outcry forced Gen. Eric Shinseki to step down as VA secretary.

The president named Shinseki's deputy, Sloan Gibson, acting secretary while he searches for a permanent replacement.

One name floated to replace Shinseki: none other than Sen. Tom Coburn, who's retiring from Congress at the end of his term in 2015.

"If there's anybody in Congress that knows more about health care, then Tom Coburn should be the next secretary of the Veterans Administration in my view," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during a June appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I think he'd be the best, and he's going to kill me for saying that."

In his own weekly address Saturday, President Obama marked Father's Day weekend.

"If you haven't got Dad a gift yet, there's still time - just barely," he said. "But the truth is, what we give our fathers can never match what our fathers give us."

"I know how important it is to have a dad in your life because I grew up without my father around," he explained. "I felt the weight of his absence. So for Michelle and our girls, I try every day to be the husband and father my family didn't have when I was young."

He touted a White House initiative called My Brother's Keeper, which pairs young men with mentors to help them "reach their full potential."

The president also previewed the upcoming White House Working Families Summit, where he'll push for an update to America's workplace policies, from raising the minimum wage to ensuring equal pay for women and affordable child care.

"Dads work hard," he said. "So our country should do what we can to make sure their hard work pays off."

  • Jake Miller

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