The Senate Appropriations Committee had its second hearing Thursday on the VA 2017 budget proposal. Kirk, R-Ill., said the budget should make sure no veteran is sent to voicemail as Tom Young of Illinois was.
“When Tom called and feeling so bad, he was thinking of suicide, he lied in front of the commuter rail tracks and committed suicide in Prospect Heights,” he said. “We want to make sure a veteran in that kind of crisis never goes to voicemail again. That’s my top priority, to make sure we assess accountability again.”
The hot lines are run by contractors. Kirk said he has been asking for weeks for the name of the contractor that sent young to voicemail. Dr. David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the VA, gave an answer at Thursday’s hearing – the contractor was Link2Health.
Kirk said the VA should called the contractor and “say you really did a bad job, and a veteran named Tom Young in Illinois lost his life because you pushed him to voicemail.”
Wait times for appointments with doctors at the VA are also a huge part of the change the committee wants to see. Kirk said VA employees lie about wait times for patients receiving care so they can receive performance bonuses.
Illinois whistleblower Germaine Clarno, a VA union leader and social worker, a revealed that wait times at the Hines, Ill., VA were not what officials there said they were and she sees no concern among leaders.
“It’s not about the veterans’ experience, and I keep saying that because I don’t hear that,” she said. “I don’t hear anyone talking about the experience of the veterans.”
On March 4, Kirk called for the Office of Inspector General to give a full investigation report of the Hines VA.
Reach reporter Tia Rinehart at tia.Rinehart@scripps.com or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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