Toomey proposes bill to crack down on abuses at VA

Vets group supports addressing problem but keeping system

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., wants to make it easier for veterans to sue employees of Veterans Administration facilities who willfully misrepresent, lie or misreport any aspect of a patient's health status.

He intends to introduce a bill next week, when senators return to Washington from a week in their home states.

The bill is a response to recent allegations that numerous VA health centers had created secret wait lists, falsified records and destroyed evidence that they were not providing appropriate care.

"Men and women who put on a uniform for this country put themselves in harm's way, make huge sacrifices [and] -- in many instances -- suffer greatly for having done so," he said during a speech Tuesday at the Willow Grove VFW near Philadelphia. "They need to be first in line for the best quality health care in the world."

That isn't happening, Mr. Toomey said, and he wants it to change.

His bill would require the VA to disclose the true extent of its wait lists. It also would allow plaintiffs in cases against the VA to receive copies of all emails, memos, voice mails and other documents that show how secret wait lists endangered patients' health, how employees hid their wrongdoing and which VA officials knew what was happening.

It also would provide compensation for veterans -- or next of kin -- harmed by delayed treatment and would require monetary damages to be paid by the employee who willfully caused harm, not by the government.

Third, the bill provides that if a court finds willful falsification or destruction of records, VA employees can be fired immediately without due process currently mandated by civil service laws and union contracts. Those employees also would lose their pensions under Mr. Toomey's plan.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents federal workers, had no immediate response.

Meanwhile, the veterans' organization AMVETS supports the legislation.

"There can be no doubt that the VA suffers from deep-seated, systemic problems and that neither the department nor its employees believe that they are actually accountable to either the veterans they serve or the American people who pay their generous salaries," national legislative director Diane M. Zumatto said in a letter to Mr. Toomey.

She said the VA system is so large that it is bound to have problems. Those problems need to be addressed, and the senator's legislation begins to do that without needlessly dismantling the parts that work.

"The basic framework for success is already in place," Ms. Zumatto wrote. "Let's not throw out one of the premiere health care systems in the world in our haste to fix these current problems or to achieve any political goals."


Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published May 27, 2014 9:49 PM

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