Jun 11 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today called on acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Sloan Gibson to help improve the VA’s tense relationship with Members of Congress by providing long-overdue answers to questions that were previously ignored by the VA. Sen. Moran asked Sec. Gibson to provide answers on eight issues of importance to Kansas veterans he raised over the past 18 months with former-VA Sec. Eric Shinseki and his staff.
"Many federal agencies consider healthy tension between the executive and legislative branches the norm, but this is also a relationship that must be nurtured and treated with mutual respect at all times," Sen. Moran wrote in a letter to acting-Sec. Gibson. "It has been my experience that Congress’ relationship with the VA has deteriorated over time; I struggle to understand why this has happened and why it has become increasingly difficult to get answers on behalf of Kansans who seek my help to do so… There are numerous issues and inquiries listed here that I would like to draw your attention to as we begin to build a constructive relationship with the best interests of veterans in mind."
In his letter to acting-Sec. Gibson, Sen. Moran details his interaction with the VA on each outstanding question and asks for a timely response on the eight issues outlined below. Of particular concern are revelations that the VA has withheld information from Congress on the future of the successful Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program, which rural veterans rely on for access to quality health care. Sources tell the Senator that the national program director for ARCH directed the five pilot sites several months ago to begin contacting veterans who participate in ARCH to let them know the program would be ending. All the while, the VA told Congress that no decision on the future of ARCH had been made, analysis was pending, and the extension of the program would be made by either Undersecretary Petzel or Secretary Shinseki.
While this list does not encapsulate every request or inquiry from Sen. Moran, these are inquiries with a history of ineptitude and unacceptable delays. This list is also meant to demonstrate the lack of urgency from the VA headquarters in addressing Congressional concerns. To read the full request for information or for more details on each of the questions raised by Sen. Moran, see attachment at bottom of page.
- Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH): Since 2011, the ARCH pilot program has been operating in five rural sites across the country including Pratt, Kansas. ARCH serves rural veterans by giving them access to health care from a community provider close to home instead of traveling hundreds of miles to seek care at a VA facility. Independent analysis shows that more than 90 percent of veterans who received primary care services through ARCH are “completely satisfied,” and cite significantly shortened travel times to receive care. Sen. Moran has repeatedly asked VA officials – including Sec. Shinseki directly at a March 2014 SVAC hearing – about the future of the successful ARCH program which is set to expire in September 2014. Instead of the straightforward analysis promised by Sec. Shinseki, Sen. Moran has only received empty promises and non-answers from the VA. Sources outside the VA now tell the Senator that the national program director for ARCH directed the five pilot sites several months ago to begin contacting veterans who participate in ARCH to let them know the program would be ending. The VHA has given Congress the impression they were waiting on analysis about the success of the program to inform their decision about extending the program and all along that has been a misleading storyline. At a time when the VA says it is looking for ways to “accelerate access to care” for veterans, the VHA made an intentional decision not to inform Congress about their plans to discontinue this successful program. Sen. Moran is enraged by this breach of trust because those who suffer from this irresponsibility are veterans.
- Unauthorized Activities at VA Facilities in Kansas: Sen. Moran details unanswered questions raised regarding troubling incidents at the Leavenworth Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center and the Topeka Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center, as well as the nature and status of investigations at each facility. Sen. Moran’s questions regarding Leavenworth focus on allegations of a VA employee threatening other employees on multiple occasions – including once with a firearm while on VA property. The Senator’s questions regarding Topeka focus on the nature of the emergency room closure at the Topeka Medical Center and allegations that misconduct and malfeasance – not simply staff shortages – caused the closure.
- Liberal, Kansas, Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and Provider Recruitment and Retention: For more than three years, the Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Liberal has been without a primary care provider. For nearly three years, Sen. Moran has asked the VA about this vacancy, when a provider might be hired at the Liberal CBOC and, more broadly, how the VA intends to improve its methods for recruitment and retention of health care providers – especially in rural communities. To date, Sen. Moran has still not received an explanation of how the VA intends to look for new ways to recruit and retain health care providers in rural communities, or information on when the Liberal CBOC will have a permanent provider to serve veterans in the area.
- • Wichita, Kansas, Dole VA and McConnell Air Force Base (AFB) Collaborative Project: For the past 18 months, Sen. Moran has sought answers from the VA on when the Dole VA/McConnell AFB collaborative project – which has been in the works for seven years – would be funded and constructed in Wichita. Although the widely-supported project is highlighted in a separate chapter of the FY15 budget proposal as one of six “future VA/DoD collaborative projects,” the FY15 budget proposal and Strategic Capital Investment Plan (SCIP) major construction list did not score or rank the Dole VA/McConnell AFB collaborative project, after ranking it #196 in the FY14 SCIP. VA officials have stated time and again that new construction for a collaborative facility on McConnell AFB is not a matter of “if” but “when.” Sen. Moran has raised real concerns that internal VA processes, inattention and inconsistencies in staff work are having a negative impact on future-year collaborative projects that would benefit service members.
- Dodge City Community College (DCCC) Helicopter Program: The DCCC has received disparate responses from the Muskogee, Oklahoma, VA Regional Office and the St. Louis, Missouri, VA Regional Office on both the process and availability of GI Bill reimbursement for their flight instructor pilot program. The conflicting feedback between regional offices suggests a need for increased oversight from VA headquarters and better coordination not only between headquarters and regional offices, but also among regional offices themselves. Sen. Moran has yet to receive the response needed from the VA to resolve this situation for Dodge City Community College.
- Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) and Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors (LPMHCs): In 2006, Congress authorized the employment of LPMHCs and MFTs by the VA. However, the two professions comprise less than 1 percent of the VA behavioral health workforce, despite representing almost 40 percent of the overall mental health workforce in the United States. On March 19, 2014, Sen. Moran submitted six questions regarding mental health services for veterans and the hiring of mental health professionals in Kansas – specifically the hiring of MFTs and LPMHCs. For example, how many of the 1,723 mental health professionals who have been hired are located in Kansas? Sen. Moran has yet to receive answers to any of his questions, a classic example of Congress’ experience when interacting with the VA.
- Disclosure of Medical Conditions – Disability Compensation Review: Last month, Sen. Moran requested information on the VA’s policy regarding the disclosure of ailments or medical conditions discovered during a veteran’s disability compensation review process that are unrelated to the condition(s) listed for review. He is concerned that as a matter of VA policy veterans are not notified or disclosed of any condition identified by a health care professional during the disability compensation review process if a veteran does not list this condition on the disability compensation claim. Sen. Moran believes that when seeking health care, veterans should be made aware of conditions that affect them. Although he received answers from the VA on this policy question on June 6, 2014, the response leads to more concerns about how veterans are being treated. Sen. Moran’s staff followed up with more questions to fully understand the nature of this policy and its impacts on veterans. He asks that acting-Sec. Gibson look for ways to eliminate this policy to safeguard the health and well-being of veterans.
- Health Care Scheduling Prevented Beyond Six Months: Sen. Moran requested information on an apparent VA policy that prevents a veteran from scheduling appointments beyond a six-month window. The by-product of this policy is further delaying the actual appointment date for a veteran and contributes to wait time inaccuracies. Given that a wait time is typically months from the date a veteran calls to schedule an appointment, this unnecessary postponement extends the timeframe for a veteran to receive care and is yet another reason for unreliable data on actual wait times. Sen. Moran asks acting-Sec. Gibson for a timely answer regarding this nonsensical policy.
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- Sen. Moran Letter to VA Secretary Gibson on Unanwsered Questions Moran Letter to Sec. Gibson on Kansas RFIs - (2.4 MBs)