Congressman: $15 billion VA reform bill helps veterans, but doesn't go far enough

Veteran healthcare crisis called an emergency

TAMPA - The House and Senate have come together to announce an agreement to begin the process of overhauling the VA system.

Lawmakers hope the bill can help address some of the recent concerns involving the VA, including long wait times, insufficient access to facilities and bad employees.

“Hopefully, the veteran hear today that Congress has responded, the VA has responded,” said Congressman David Jolly, responding to the $15 billion VA reform bill he believes will help local veterans get the care they need.

The measure would fund new doctors and clinics, including a new consolidated clinic in Congressman Gus Bilarakis' district in Pasco County.

It will also allow veterans to receive access to medical care outside the VA in certain instances.

“This is an emergency bill. To me, this does not represent the long-term historic reform that's needed,” said Jolly. “What this will do, though, is give additional authority to the VA to begin to clear the wait list immediately.”

The I-Team has uncovered plenty of problems at the Young Bay Pines VA Hospital in Jolly's district.

A former clerk told us earlier this month he was told to alter veterans appointment times to make it look like the VA was making goals when it wasn't.

“It was very overt. There was nothing concealed about it,” the clerk told us.

We also told you about Javier Soto, a former benefits rating officer from the St. Petersburg Veterans Benefits Office.

He testified before Congress that he was fired for speaking out.

“I put out various notices of wrongdoing in the workplace,” said Soto, during testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“I think there is much truth in many of the complaints we've heard, some from whistleblowers,” said Jolly. “We need to remember: We've had the death of veterans as the result of the negligence of the department."

Jolly said the reform bill also makes it easier to fire bad VA employees and creates more accountability. But, he said, it doesn't go far enough.

“The legislation does not solve the long-term, systemic VA problems that created the current crisis,” Jolly said.

The reform bill will go before both the House and Senate for consideration before the August recess so that the reforms can begin immediately.

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