It’s time to move swiftly to fix Veterans Affairs

In recent weeks, hundreds of Ohioans have called or written about the critical need to fix the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system and ensure our veterans are receiving quality healthcare without long delays.

The great majority of VA employees are dedicated to serving their patients, and many are veterans themselves, but the wrongdoing of a few has tarnished the VA’s reputation, and underscored the need to address existing problems with the claims backlog, the suicide rates of our veterans, our large homeless veteran population and unacceptable delays in scheduling patient care.

I share Ohioans’ concerns on all of these points. Our veterans deserve a VA that matches their commitment to our nation in its commitment to caring for them.

I am committed to rebuilding the VA system and I was honored to be chosen as one of 14 senators to serve on the 2014 joint veteran’s conference committee. Conference committees work to create one final bill when the House and Senate versions of a bill differ, and this committee is the first in 15 years to negotiate much needed veterans’ legislation. We recently met to finalize legislation that passed the House and Senate in different forms to ensure veterans’ access to excellent health care.

The Senate version would increase accountability for senior VA employees; provide an option for veterans in remote locations who are experiencing long wait times to receive care from another institution in a timely manner; and allow the VA to hire more doctors, nurses and other staff needed in VA hospitals and clinics – enhancing the VA’s ability to provide veterans with the care they deserve.

Last week, I met with Robert McDonald, the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble Co. who is President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs. I expressed to him my disappointment with recent allegations against the VA and concerns for our veterans and the VA employees. I also shared some of my priorities and spoke with him about his vision for improving our VA system.

After sitting down with him, I am confident he is ready to breathe new life into the VA and begin work on reforming and rebuilding the VA and ending the disabilities backlog.

It’s time to move swiftly forward towards a solution. Sending final legislation to the president and confirming McDonald are the first steps toward working to serve the men and women that have given so much while serving our nation.