WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) today introduced S. 1266, the Enhancing Veteran Care Act, which addresses key health care priorities for our veterans.

“Since learning of the shortfalls at VA centers in Oklahoma in 2015, my staff and I have been working tirelessly to ensure that our veterans have access to high-quality, effective healthcare. I am proud of the work we have done to improve our veteran’s benefits but the work doesn’t stop here, ” Inhofe said. “This legislation that Sen. Lankford and I are introducing today empowers Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) directors and medical center directors across the country with the ability to contract with qualified, accredited third party entities to investigate their health care facilities. The directors have the best perspective of what is going on at their facilities and unfortunately in the past VA Inspector General reports have not matched the reality on the ground. It’s important we hold care providers accountable to the highest standards of excellence for our veterans and I’m proud to introduce legislation that does just that.”

Background

·On May 24, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects VA whistleblowers and allows the secretary of Veterans Affairs to dismiss bad actors in the VA. Inhofe co-sponsored this legislation, and it builds on Section 2 of Inhofe’s bill, S. 2554, from the 114th Congress, which provided expediting firing authority to the VA to address poor employees.

·On Dec. 12, 2016, the Senate passed S. 3021, which included the same VISN oversight language introduced today and a provision that would support veterans’ eligibility under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 for education benefits when attaining postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) programs. On Dec. 7, 2016, the House passed H.R. 6435, companion legislation of the healthcare portion of S. 3021.

·On June 29, 2016, Inhofe delivered remarks at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s legislative hearing in support of S. 3021.

· On June 7, 2016, Inhofe and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced amendment #4479 to the FY 2017 NDAA—the same text as S. 3021, which they introduced the previous day.

· On Feb. 23, 2016, Inhofe announced on the Senate floor that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has committed in writing to conduct investigations of Oklahoma’s VA hospitals in coordination with an outside entity, a condition made by Inhofe prior to allowing confirmation of the VA Inspector General nominee.

· On Feb. 12, Inhofe and Lankford introduced S. 2554, the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act which expanded authority at the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow directors of Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) chapters to remove or demote any VA employee within their network whose performance warrants such action and to authorize VISN directors to contract with an outside entity to conduct investigations of their VA medical facilities.

·On Dec. 23, 2015, Inhofe contacted VISN 19 Network Director Ralph Gigliotti and requested his personal assistance in ensuring proper care is provided to the five veterans identified in the Dec. 23, 2015, USA Today article. Inhofe continues to work with the VA on care for these veterans to include addressing existing medical issues and any future medical issues.

· On Nov. 30, 2015, VISN 19 sent two teams to investigate operations at the Muskogee VA center, one that looked at quality of care and the other that looked at management of the facility. Their visits resulted in the immediate shut down of intermediate surgeries at the Muskogee facility due to issues that were discovered. It also prompted the removal of the facility’s Chief of Staff on Feb. 9, who was temporarily reassigned until the completion of VA’s review of VISN 19’s report.

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