Kirk, Durbin upbeat after meeting with Obama VA nominee

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WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Robert McDonald, who attended high school in Arlington Heights, paid separate calls on the Illinois senators on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat and Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican.

Both senators told McDonald they were concerned about the VA facilities in Illinois. McDonald’s appointment comes in the wake of the cooked books and scheduling scandal that led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shenseki.

“Today I met with Robert McDonald, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, to discuss a shared goal: ensuring that veterans who bravely served our nation — including the 750,000 living in Illinois — have their benefits claims processed quickly, and their healthcare needs met fully,” Durbin said in a statement “These are promises that we made, and they must be kept.”

Kirk said in a statement after his meeting with McDonald that he would vote for his confirmation.

Kirk recently voted against confirming two of President Barack Obama’s high-level nominess: On July 9, he voted against confirming Julian Castro to be Housing and Urban Development secretary. On July 10, hevoted against confirming Shaun Donovan to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“Robert McDonald has both the military and private sector leadership experience needed to be a change agent in the big and corrupt VA bureaucracy,” Kirk said in a statement. “McDonald assured me that he has been that change agent before, tackling the culture of tenured ‘salary men’ in the P&G Japanese division and I am confident after our meeting that I will vote for his confirmation, and that he and I can be partners in ending a similar culture of corruption at the VA.”More from Kirk’s office: “Also during their meeting, Senator Kirk repeated his call for Hines VA Director Joan Ricard, who has overseen a culture of corruption and abuse at the Hines VA for two years, to step down. Hines maintains the highest percentage of appointments scheduled over thirty days among Illinois VA hospitals, and has been faced with numerous allegations from whistleblowers over the past few months of secret wait lists and manipulated wait times by officials within the hospital. “

Below, Kirk’s letter to McDonald . . .

July 15, 2014

Mr. Robert McDonald

Nominee for Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Mr. McDonald:

I congratulate you on your recent nomination to be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. As you move through the nomination process, and if you are confirmed, you must take decisive action to eliminate the toxic culture of corruption that exists throughout the Department and its leadership. Over the past several months, I have spoken with many Illinois veterans and the VA employees who tirelessly serve them – their message is the same: the VA and its leadership must be held accountable for the failure to provide timely access to care and subsequent efforts to cover up their failures.

As you know, the VA Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) review of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Special Initiative to process rating claims pending over two years, just recently released on July 14, 2014, highlights additional instances where the VA misled Congress and our nation’s veterans on the time required to process disability compensation claims.The VA OIG states that it “estimates that the VA inaccurately processed 17,600 of 56,500 claims, resulting in $40.4 million in improper payments.” The report further states that the initiative “misrepresented VBA’s workload statistics and progress towards eliminating the claims backlog.” The statistics have shocked us on anational level butIhave seen the same systemic problems at Hines Veterans Hospital in Illinois.

In April 2014, Hines VAdirected staff to cover up a list of over seven hundred veterans, some who have waited as long as since 2005 to see a VA doctor. In data released by the VA on July 3, almost fifteen percent of veterans, or close to 8,000, wait over thirty days to see a Hines VA doctor. Of that, almost 3,000 veterans waited between 61-90 days to receive care. These staggering figures add to lengthy list of allegations against the Hines VA – including practices ofmanipulating wait times and retribution against whistleblowers- all of which seem to have been condoned andperpetuatedby Hines VA leadership.Ihave called for the Director of the Hines VA, Joan Ricard, to be removed from her oversightof thishospital.

As a result of these systemic failures, veterans have been forced to endure excessive wait times for both patient care and the disability benefits they are entitled to. If you are confirmed,I ask that you urgently join me in Illinois to visit our five VA hospitals and the many Illinois veterans they serve.I look forward to working with you to accelerate veterans’ access to private care and create a VA that is both transparent and accountable to Congress, the veterans it serves, and the employees who work there. As someone who has lead a Fortune 100 Company,Iam hopeful thatyourprivate sector leadership experience is exactly what is needed to finally reform thebureaucraticnightmare that is too often failing our nation’sheroes and their families.


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