Rep. Lujan Grisham greets veterans during their visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (2015)
When our nation’s service members take the oath to protect and defend the United States, they were not the only ones making a promise. We as Americans also take an oath to ensure that when they return home we provide them the support and resources they and their families need. New Mexico is home to a large number of veterans, and we have a solemn responsibility make sure that we're standing up for those who took a stand for us. As a nation, we should have the highest standards for the care and assistance of veterans and their families whether it is through medical care, housing, employment and education assistance, or disability compensation.
Even after it was publically disclosed that VA management and staff were purposely manipulating patient appointment wait times, very few individuals were fired, demoted, or held accountable in any way. We have seen the VA repeatedly fail to hold staff accountable for wrong-doing, putting veterans’ health and wellness in jeopardy. I have voted several times for legislation to increase accountability at the VA and pushed the White House, the VA Inspector General’s Office, and the New Mexico VA Health Care System to fully investigate allegations of mismanagement, wrong-doing, and illegal activity. After working with veterans and VA whistleblowers, I published a report on the issues our office has identified with the New Mexico VA Health Care System, which I provided to both Congress and the VA.
I have introduced two bills that would increase accountability at the VA. The Ensuring Fair Access to Veterans Healthcare Act (H.R. 2707) would create an Ombudsman Office within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) that would work independently of the VA and provide veterans and their families a place to turn with their issues and complaints. The Fixing VHA Facilities Act (H.R. 4728) would assign an independent federal health monitor to the VA’s lowest-performing medical centers including the New Mexico VA Health Care System.
Improving Access to Care
Access to VA health care is a serious issue, not only at the New Mexico VA Health Care System, but across the country. The most common complaint I receive is that it is difficult for veterans and their families to navigate the massive VA bureaucracy. Veterans need a better way to navigate the VA’s red tape to report problems and resolve issues.
I have also introduced two bills that would make it easier for veterans to receive the services they are entitled to. The Improving Access to VA Care Act (H.R. 4727) would decrease wait times for treatment and benefits for service-connected disability claims. I have seen veterans suffering for months, or even years, while their disability claims are reviewed by a slow-moving bureaucratic process. Under this bill, instead of waiting veterans would automatically be eligible for services while their claims are considered. Life-saving medical treatment and benefits cannot be postponed while paperwork gets shuffled around for months. The Veterans Independent Living Enhancement Act (H.R. 2708) would help disabled veterans live independently. This bill would remove the arbitrary cap on the number of veterans eligible to participate in the Independent Living Program, which provides important services that maximize independence in daily living for veterans who are too severely disabled to pursue employment.
My office has worked with hundreds of veterans on issues that they are experiencing at the VA, including health care appointment scheduling, disability compensation claims, and quality of service issues at the New Mexico VA Health Care System. If you or a loved one is having difficulty with the VA, please contact my office at 505-346-6781.