Durbin Meets With Veteran Service Organizations As Progress Continues On Legislation To Bring Accountability To The VA

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) met today with representatives from the Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warrior Project, and Veterans of Foreign Wars to discuss the ongoing federal and criminal investigations into reports that facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs used secret lists to conceal the amount of time veterans waited for healthcare. Earlier this month, Durbin met with veterans and VSO members in Springfield to discuss their experiences at Illinois veterans healthcare facilities. A photo of today’s meeting is available here.


“I met with Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson last week, and I will continue to seek regular updates from the federal agencies conducting investigations into the wait times at VA hospitals and clinics in Illinois and across the country,” Durbin said. “But it is equally important that I hear from the veterans who seek care at these facilities and the veterans service organizations that are on the front lines, working hard to see that their needs are met.”


Later today, members are expected to be named to a bipartisan, bicameral House-Senate Conference Committee tasked with resolving the differences between the Senate-passed Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act and the House-passed Veterans’ Access to Care Act.


On June 12, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to improve veterans’ access to health care and address serious problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation will bring accountability to senior staff at VA medical facilities; give veterans access to private doctors, community health centers and other hospitals and clinics; make it easier for the VA to hire and train more doctors and nurses; and expand access to care through the creation of 26 new medical facilities, including a research facility at Hines VA Hospital near Maywood, Illinois. The legislation also will allow in-state tuition for all veterans at public colleges and universities, improve medical care for military sexual assault victims, and provide more VA benefits for surviving spouses of deceased servicemembers.

Shortly before the vote, Durbin met with Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson to discuss the results of a nationwide internal audit into waitlist practices at VA facilities. Durbin called for the meeting after reviewing the results of the audit, which flagged Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital and VA clinics in Danville, Joliet, Marion, Peoria, and Great Lakes for further review. The nationwide audit revealed that more than 57,000 patients at 731 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics were awaiting initial medical appointments 90 days or more after requesting them. The audit also found that an additional 64,000 veterans enrolled in the system over the past decade had never had appointments. A photo of Durbin meeting with Acting Secretary Gibson is available here.

Also on June 12, the Federal Bureau of Investigations announced that had opened a criminal investigation into the VA following reports that officials manipulated medical waiting lists and delayed care for thousands of veterans. On June 9, Durbin joined 19 Senators in sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging the Department of Justice to hold accountable anyone responsible for abuses of these waitlists. A copy of that letter can be accessed here.


On May 22, Durbin met with then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to discuss reports that facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs used secret lists to conceal the amount of time veterans waited for healthcare. Following the meeting, Durbin called for a complete review of VA medical facilities, in Illinois and across the country.


Earlier on May 22, the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Durbin is a member, passed legislation that provides funding for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies for fiscal year 2015. The bill includes an additional $5 million in funding for the VA inspector general to look into the issue of delayed healthcare and secret waiting lists.


At Durbin’s request, the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee also directs the VA to ensure that each Medical Center’s Caregiver Coordinator is able to dedicate their full and undivided attention to supporting severely wounded veterans and the people who care for them. This provision clarifies legislation that Durbin previously authored to provide financial assistance and other support to the family members of wounded veterans. The Family Caregiver Program, which began in 2011, provides technical, financial and practical support to family caregivers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seriously injured in the line of duty.


As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Durbin included a provision in the Department of Defense spending bill to speed up the program that will allow a servicemember’s records to transfer to the VA electronically. He also directed the DOD Inspector General to work with the VA Inspector General in determining how to streamline the transfer of records between the two departments.