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Roe: VA care in Tennessee making progress

U.S. Rep Phil Roe, Guest Commentary • Feb 6, 2019 at 8:00 AM

I am writing in response to a recent editorial (Jan. 30) calling on Congress to help improve the quality of Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers throughout Tennessee.

I am proud to represent East Tennessee for so many reasons, but I’m most proud of how our entire region supports the men and women who selflessly served our country to ensure they receive the treatment they have earned and deserve. This strong support is undoubtedly a major reason why the Mountain Home VA Medical Center is among the top-rated facilities in the country and a model for other VAMCs. As the chairman for the past two years, and now ranking member, of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I have worked tirelessly to improve and strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs, especially their medical facilities, and I’ve tried to share the Mountain Home model all around the country to improve the quality of care provided.

Unfortunately, not all VA facilities are near where they should be, including some in Tennessee.

The Memphis VAMC is considered a “high-risk” facility and is receiving dedicated assistance from VA quality improvement teams to address and remedy areas of concern. Additionally, the Nashville and Murfreesboro VAMCs were both rated as two-star facilities, according to VA’s internal SAIL ratings.

The editorial board pointed out that in 2017, and Rep. David Kustoff and I addressed the city of Memphis in an op-ed about how we are working to bring stability to that facility. As we noted, a major factor in some of these facilities’ struggles is the lack of accountability, which is why last Congress we passed, and the president signed, the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.

This law gives Secretary Wilkie the tools to ensure that bad actors are held accountable while improving and keeping important whistleblower protections intact. Furthermore, to ensure careful oversight, while I chaired the committee, I sent staff to conduct oversight visits to the Memphis VAMC and Nashville VAMC, and as ranking member I took a personal oversight visit this January to Nashville to see first-hand the quality of the care that is being provided.

Additionally, last Congress, I also championed the VA MISSION Act which was signed into law by President Trump last June. This legislation is a huge win for veterans everywhere. The key aspect of the VA MISSION Act is to give veterans freedom and ownership of their own healthcare, by allowing veterans to choose to receive care at facilities outside VA if their facility is not able to meet access or quality standards.

As ranking member, I will continue to oversee the implementation of this law and ensure our nation's’ heroes receive the quality care where and when they need it.

In part because of our work, there are some encouraging signs. Today, the Memphis VA is under new leadership thanks to our accountability law, and it should be noted, has continued to show improvement under the leadership of Director David Dunning. I am encouraged by that and I remain committed to ensuring it continues. The Nashville facility has quality equipment and facilities and it has the potential to become a five-star VA-rated hospital. My goal is for every VA medical facility to provide quality care. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the VA is filled with some of the most capable, hard-working employees who care deeply for our veterans, but they need the leadership to match.

There are still levels of improvement needed at the VA and several of its medical centers but rest assured that I will do everything I can to help improve our VA centers so that every veteran gets the care they have earned.

Dr. Phil Roe of Johnson City is serving his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives serving the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee.

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