Rubio: Hold VA to account

The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general said 26 facilities are being investigated.
The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general said 26 facilities are being investigated.
Published May 24, 2014

Memorial Day has always been a time of unity for our nation. It's a time when we put aside partisanship and politics, come together, and honor the memory of all those who have given what President Abraham Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion" to America.

As we remember the fallen this weekend, we are also reminded of our duty to their brothers and sisters in arms who continue the fight for freedom, and to the many millions of veterans who have given so selflessly in service to our nation and now wish for lives of dignity, honor and security.

Our treatment of our veterans should prompt the same unified response and solidarity among our people as our sacred tradition of honoring those who have fallen in battle.

That's why all Americans should be outraged by recent reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been selectively denying care to certain veterans. According to the inspector general, 26 VA facilities are now under investigation for disgraceful mismanagement.

In Florida, which is home to almost 2 million veterans, we have widespread and disturbing reports of wait lists, backlogs, misplaced or lost records, and rampant malpractice in our St. Petersburg, Miami and Gainesville VA medical centers.

Those who have fought bravely in defense of the United States have earned the right to expect the gold standard of care upon their return home. When their trust is broken, we have a responsibility to act swiftly to rectify the damage done — to whatever degree possible — and ensure that people are held responsible for their incompetence and negligence.

In recent months, I have been working with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, on legislation that would lead to accountability at the VA by allowing the VA secretary to have the authority he needs to fire incompetent middle-level managers. It's the same kind of authority that managers in practically every other line of work have.

Last week, the House passed this legislation overwhelmingly by a 390-33 vote. With such bipartisan consensus clearly behind our bill, and with the added support of my colleague from Florida, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, I attempted to call it up for a vote in the Senate. Unfortunately this effort was blocked by another senator.

Over this Memorial Day holiday, I encourage people to let their senators know why action must be taken to hold people accountable for the mistreatment of our veterans. Current law obstructs this accountability by forbidding the firing of negligent and incompetent VA officials, which is why my legislation is so important.

I also encourage President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to take another careful look at my proposal. As Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the House passed it, "I think what the House has done is not unreasonable." Not only is it not unreasonable; it's the very least we can do to correct the systemic problem that has led to the current tragedy.

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As we reflect this weekend on all those who have lost their lives in defense of freedom, let us reflect, too, on those who have returned home. Sacrifice does not end on the battlefield but continues on for a lifetime. To honor that sacrifice, we must come together to demand the dignity our veterans deserve.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote this article exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.