|SAN ANTONIO, May 20 - Falsifying records, denying access to health care and harming our nation’s heroes is completely unacceptable.
Last week, troubling allegations surfaced from a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) employee, claiming that he and other employees in Austin and San Antonio were ordered to alter medical care appointment records to give the appearance of shorter wait times to see a doctor. Concerns have also been raised in the Rio Grande Valley. These disturbing claims are nearly identical to those coming from VA offices in Phoenix, Arizona, and Fort Collins, Colorado.
These allegations are still being investigated. But if true, the actions are deplorable. Even worse, it now appears VA executives lined their own pockets with cash bonuses on the basis of these manipulated patient wait times. Regardless of the outcome of any investigation, it’s another ugly stain on a federal agency that should be entirely focused on helping those who fought for our freedom.
Since 2003, I have chaired the Texas Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations (VAMI), and worked every day to make Texas the number one state in the nation for veterans, active duty military and their families. As the daughter of an Army veteran, this is a deeply personal goal.
On a state level, we are accomplishing it. Texas now ensures utility discounts for severely burned veterans who need their homes at lower temperatures, provides expedited licensing for veterans and their family members to make job-seeking easier and gives property tax exemptions for disabled veterans, their survivors, and “Gold Star” spouses — those spouses when a service member is killed in action.
But, on a regular basis, I hear from Texas veterans who are frustrated with inadequate service from the federal VA. And I share their frustration.
In fact, it happens all too often. Just two years ago, I helped bring to light the terrible backlog of disability claims at the VA and then worked with state leaders to develop a Texas solution to a federal problem. Since then, Texas’ Strike Force and Fully-Developed Claims Teams have helped reduced the backlog of VA claims in Texas from over 68,000 to less than 27,000.
I’m proud that in 2012 Texas took action. And if necessary, we will not hesitate to do so again — a promise made to our veterans must be honored. Texas simply cannot allow veterans to be left waiting for months to receive basic medical care and then have the problem swept under the rug.
I’ll pursue whatever course of action the state can do to fix the situation. But we shouldn’t have to use state resources to clean up federal problems. The VA needs to be held accountable. If records are indeed being falsified, it undermines the hard work Texas has done to honor our veterans, and keep the promise made to them. The VAMI Committee will be looking into these concerns at the VA, and veterans in Texas can be assured that the state of Texas is on their side.
Leticia Van de Putte is Texas state Senator for District 26. A D who resides in San Antonio, Van de Putte is chair of the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee. She is running for lieutenant governor of Texas.