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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), member of Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), questioned Government Accountability Office (GAO) Health Team Director Dr. Debra Draper and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief Consultant for Mental Health Services Dr. Harold Kudler this week during a committee hearing on “VA Mental Health: Ensuring Access to Care.”

Five years of GOA investigations on the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have resulted in similar findings and recommendations outlining systemic VA failures. Sen. Moran questioned Dr. Draper on whether the VA has accepted GAO recommendations and taken action to remedy failures and deficiencies. Unfortunately for our veterans, Dr. Draper indicated the VHA has not made much progress, which is why the VHA was placed on GAO’s “high-risk” list this year. 

Despite GAO recommendations to remove VHA from the “high-risk” list, little has changed within the VHA to correct the wrongs that have harmed veterans across the country in preventing access to care, even though the Veterans Choice Program was created to support veterans by offering the choice to receive care in the community.

Highlights from the first round of questioning may be found here:

Sen. Moran (1:28-2:12) – “As someone who has examined the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the last five years…What is it that we can do to get out of the cycle of inviting you to come and report on your GAO studies?...How do we get out of the cycle of we’re just hearing the sameit’s a different topic each time but it’s the same set of circumstances that veterans find themselves in?”

Dr. Draper (2:12-2:25) – “I would love to report something differently. I know that we sound like a broken record sometimes, but these are the common themes…going back to the reasons we’ve put VHA on a high-risk list this past year.”

Sen. Moran (4:39-4:45) – “Is there evidence that it’s being pursued, the path to get off the high-risk category?”

Dr. Draper (4:45-4:47) – “We haven’t seen a lot of progress yet.”

Highlights from the second round of questioning may be found here:

Sen. Moran (2:39-4:25) – I certainly wouldn't disagree with the need for quality care but I also know that no care or care that's delayed, the quality of that care is zero…The VA ought to be utilizing Choice to meet the needs as best we can on veterans who are either because of time or distance in capable of being currently for within the VA…For years, before the passage of the Choice Act, I've been trying to convince that the V.A. that they have an opportunity in my state of Kansas to contract with community mental health centers…And across our very rural state, it's the only place in many instances that there is any access to health care. And our effort pre-Choice and post-Choice have been pretty fruitless in accomplishing that…Is there someone that you could direct to meet with me and with representatives of Kansas mental health centers to have a direct conversation after all these years and in light of the passage of the Choice Act to do that?...It seems to me that we’re missing an opportunity…I just need you to help me put the puzzle together…”

Dr. Kudler (4:40-4:48) – “There’s a special team that’s been developing the business rules…and I will make that happen.”