Bi-Partisan House Committee on Veterans Affairs Shows Ire at VA for Refusing to Answer Questions.
Consider it the new Clash of the Titans. Lawmakers in Congress are fed up with the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address nearly 100 requests for information over the past year. This unusual public clash was covered by USA Today, Associated Press / NBC, and other national news outlets.
What happened to prompt the House Committee Chairmen to openly criticize VA?
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee
A bi-partisan group of lawmakers on the House of Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) called out VA leaders with a new “Trials in Transparency” website highlighting VA’s lack of responsiveness to Congressional requests for key information the Legislative Branch needs in order to perform vital oversight of the Executive Branch. HVAC members say that the official HVAC site will keep a running tally of pending requests for information from the VA and will be updated weekly.
That just isn’t washing with lawmakers. The news articles quote both Democrats and Republicans expressing concerns. HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) is so frustrated by VA’s chronic stonewalling that he began writing his own weekly letters to Secretary Shinseki listing the number of outstanding information requests and demanding a response.
“VA owes it to America’s veterans and America’s taxpayers to engage in an honest conversation about its past mistakes, the future challenges it faces and its capabilities for overcoming those challenges,” said Miller on the HVAC website. “Giving Congress timely access to the information it requests is an important part of that conversation. When the department drags its feet in providing information requested by Congress, it inhibits our ability to ensure America’s veterans are receiving the care and benefits they have earned.”
Miller continued, “Our veterans deserve a VA that sets the standard for openness, honesty and transparency. When the department fails to do so, they must answer that failure.”
As the Associated Press reported the 95 unanswered requests include an inquiry dated a year ago when the Committee asked about the hiring of VA mental health workers, and another in September of 2012 about VA conference spending.
In response to the new transparency website introduced by Congress, VA issued a statement saying the department has answered tens of thousands of congressional requests and must balance that work with “the wise use of taxpayer dollars while we continue our work together serving veterans and their families.” Most of VA’s responses to Congress, however, involve questions by Veteran constituents to local VA facilities frustrated at VA’s chronic claim delay and error crisis. What Congress is complaining about is that the VA headquarters in Washington is not responding to Congressional Committees in Congress.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
At the same time the HVAC is coming down on VA, another Committee has begun targeting VA. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed VA Secretary Eric Shinseki for more information about two week-long conferences that cost the agency $6.1 million dollars.
Frustration All Around
For decades reporters and Veterans have expressed frustration with obtaining timely, accurate, and complete responses from VA. Now Congress is getting a strong and bitter taste of VA delays and denials. Let’s hope this brewing battle ends so Congress and VA can focus on making sure our Veterans get prompt and high-quality medical care and disability benefits.