Congressman Takes VA Oversight on the Road

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida

Unlike many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee did not use the August recess to go home.

Instead Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, who has earned a reputation as a dogged advocate for veterans since assuming leadership of the committee in 2011, hit the road to hold field hearings, meet with veterans and visit Department of Veterans Affairs' hospitals across the country.

VA oversight is necessary whether Congress is in session or not, he told, especially as the agency tries to regain the public trust on the heels of the most recent VA scandal involving manipulated appointment lists and veterans dying before they could see a doctor.

"One of the chief lessons of the VA scandal is that we cannot rely on VA, alone, to effectively identify and correct problems plaguing the department," Miller said. "Oversight and feedback from outside stakeholders is crucial to ensuring VA delivers the benefits and services our veterans have earned."

Miller's cross-country tour comes on the heels of two recent major VA events -- confirmation of a new VA secretary to succeed Eric Shinseki, who resigned amidst the latest scandal, and passage of a $16.3 billion VA reform bill intended to expand and speed up health care delivery to veterans.

Robert McDonald, a former Army and retired Procter & Gamble CEO, was confirmed for the VA post in late July. McDonald, who also is currently visiting VA health care facilities, ordered hospital executives to hold their own town halls with employees to better understand what problems are being faced.

Miller's schedule reveals that he will have made more than a dozen stops in seven states for field hearings, meetings with veterans groups, and tours of medical facilities by the end of August.

He has held a field hearing in Roswell, New Mexico and joined Reps. Steve Pearce, R-New Mexico, and Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, to discuss improving health care access. He also met with officials of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System in New York.

On Thursday he will be in South Dakota, to visit the Hot Springs VA Medical Center and hold another committee field hearing, according to his staff.

Verna Jones, director of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, said Miller is showing "a tremendous amount of dedication to our nation's veterans" with his cross country visits.

"It's genuine [concern for veterans} at its best," she said on Tuesday. "It's needed. That's the thing to remember. This is very much needed -- as many town hall meetings as possible."

Jones said Miller has been a strong advocate for veterans' issues, on the long standing issue of the back log in disability compensation claims as well as in the recent controversy over the manipulation of appointments at VA hospitals across the country.

As the health care crisis unfolded beginning in May, she said Miller sent a congressional staffer along with Legion representatives when they visited hospitals to talk about access and, more recently, set up crisis centers to help veterans get care.

"He has been very proactive," she said.

Bob Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Washington, DC, office, said that Miller's "going out [over the August recess] will help in getting a good working relationship with the new leadership at the VA. It will make communications better and it will help veterans."

"We see [congressional] oversight as a positive thing and we applaud this," he said.

Wallace said Miller, along with Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, have run the veterans affairs committee in a bipartisan way.

"I think both of them, and the other members of the committee ... realize they have an obligation to get this right," he said. "The last thing we want to see is for them to walk away from this legislation that was just passed."

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