U.S. Rep. Phil Roe visited the Press Tuesday, one day after announcing his intention to seek re-election for the state's 1st Congressional District seat. (Sam Watson/Johnson City Press)
One day after announcing his candidacy for a fourth term, Republican Phil Roe, the representative for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District, visited the Johnson City Press to offer his opinions on a few key issues.
Earlier this month, the congressman, and House Veterans Affairs Committee member, blasted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for what he described as a “blatant disregard for the lives of those who served their country honorably and earned timely access to quality health care.”
Roe has actively participated in an investigation of the VA scandal since the news first broke about wait lists in Phoenix. Just before the committee began a hearing on the issue, an audit of the VA confirmed 57,000 veterans have been waiting more than 90 days for an appointment, and 64,000 additional veterans requested medical care but never made it in to see a doctor or even onto a waiting list.
“The hardest part of this has been how slow Washington has been to ask for information,” Roe said Tuesday. “I can understand about being overworked; we can fix that. What we can’t fix are character problems, and I’m not talking about Mountain Home. They did have some lengthy delays, but I understand that. Turns out I think our VA has been exonerated.”
Roe said wait times need to be reduced and offered this suggestion: “The way the VA works is they mail you a letter that says ‘you’ve got an appointment at so and so.’ They need to provide vets with a courtesy call much like your personal doctor.”
He said he felt the VA has been adequately funded.
“Efficient spending of that funding?” he remarked. “Not as efficient as the private sector. I would like to see someone from the private sector — someone from outside the VA come in and run it.”
While Mountain Home was not flagged for further review, the average wait time for new patients was nearly 62 days. Roe visited the staff at Mountain Home several times and said he was felt they are dedicated to ensuring veterans receive adequate and timely care.
“But we must do better,” he said. “This problem stretches far beyond any one hospital or clinic and shows the dire need to make systematic changes within the VA health care system. The Veterans Affairs Committee is dedicated to uncovering all the facts behind this scandal, but, most importantly, we’re taking immediate steps to get care for our veterans and to give the proper authorities the flexibility needed to avoid inefficient bureaucracy and change the way the VA does business.
Several weeks ago, the House unanimously passed a bill cosponsored by Roe that requires the VA to allow any enrolled veteran who cannot get an appointment within VA wait time goals — or who lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility — to seek care in the private sector at the department’s expense. The bill also would ban bonuses for all VA employees for three years.
Press Opinion Page Editor Robert Houk asked Roe about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent primary defeat and whether that might shake up the GOP leadership.
“I thought it was going to be a close race, but I didn’t think he would lose,” Roe said.
Does this open any doors for the former Johnson City mayor?
“I’m going to focus on committee chairmanships,” he said.
Roe serves on the Education and Workforce and House Veterans Affairs committees. He also is on several subcommittees, but he acknowledged his aspirations to lead the VA committee.
“Should that open up, I could have a good shot at becoming chair of that committee,” he said. “I think it means a lot for our district to move into these positions.”
Roe, who said he was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout at Monday’s announcement, also authored H.R. 3121, the GOP’s primary proposed antidote to Obamacare, the American Healthcare Reform Act. He said the bill is a patient centered, consumer driven alternative.
The measure, strongly backed by Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, would fully repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with an expansion of health savings accounts, medical liability reform and the elimination of restrictions on purchasing insurance across state lines.
Roe faces Republicans John Rader and Daniel J. Hartley in the Aug. 7 state primary. Libertarian Michael D. Salyer and independent Robert D. Franklin will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
The congressman will be holding several local town hall meetings, including a veterans only affair at 6 p.m. on July 1, at the George P. Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough.
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