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In GOP Saturday address, Gus Bilirakis blasts lack of adequate reforms at VA

You might have missed it this weekend, but Pasco County-based Congressman Gus Bilirakis addressed the nation to say reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs over the past two years have been ineffectual, at best.

The Congressional District 12 Republican was chosen to give the GOP response to President Obama‘s Saturday-morning address, and spent three minutes addressing the crisis at the VA, and his dissatisfaction about what hasn’t been done to address the problems there.

It was almost exactly two years ago when Eric Shinseki resigned as the head of the VA. It followed a firestorm of criticism and calls for him to step down following damaging revelations of sometimes deadly delays for veterans waiting for care at VA hospitals.

Bilirakis said the problems with the agency haven’t been fixed since Shinseki’s ouster, and he questioned if it’s a priority for President Obama on Saturday.

“Despite receiving more funding, the VA is still taking too long to process claims,” Bilirakis said in his address. “Wait times are even worse. Despite receiving more authority to clean up the bureaucracy, the VA has held almost nobody accountable for manipulating wait times.”

Bilirakis, vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said that for veterans, these are life-or-death issues, but it seems to be business as usual with the VA.

“We cannot accept that,” he said, adding that committees in both the House and Senate are working on legislative reforms to boost accountability and improve care.

The major vehicle for such reforms is being called the Veterans First Act, and it would allow VA leaders to be able to more easily hire and fire senior department executives, changing the employment policies to rules closer to private-sector contracts. It also limits the amount of time any VA employee can be placed on administrative leave, blocks bonuses for some workers, and allows any VA employee to be fired for misconduct with more limited appeals and a quicker timeline.

“We need real and meaningful reforms at the VA,” the congressman concludes in his address. “And we need President Obama to keep his word to you and make it his top priority to fix the problems at the VA. We will not rest until he does. That’s the least we can do.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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