COLUMBIA - The most important part of a new health care bill for veterans passed by Congress is a provision that gives administrators the ability to fire poorly performing executives, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday.
Graham said he has confidence that new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald can shorten wait times and improve the quality of care for veterans, but only if he gets rid of the people who have caused problems in the VA hospitals and clinics.
"If nobody gets fired, we're going to be right back here dealing with the problem," said Graham, R-S.C.
Graham also praised other parts of the $17 billion bill that passed Congress last week with bipartisan support and is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama this week. The money will hire more doctors and nurses, but Graham said just as important in a rural state with a lot of veterans is the new Veterans Choice Card. The card allows veterans to get care from a nearby private doctor if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or aren't given an appointment for care within 30 days.
Graham was joined by South Carolina Adjutant General Robert Livingston, who thanks him for his support of the bill.
"Properly defending our country is taking care of the people who have given us so much," Livingston said.
Also included in the bill is $8 million to consolidate several community-based outpatient clinics for veterans in Myrtle Beach and $7 million to open a new clinic for primary care and dental work in Charleston.
Graham said while the bill was a big step forward to veterans, it didn't mean lawmakers should stop their scrutiny of the VA and other programs. The VA has seen a series of reports of patients dying while awaiting treatment, workers falsifying records to hide delays in treatment and appointments and administrators who ignored or lied about problems.
The lies are part of a bureaucratic culture at the VA that must be changed, Graham said. He promised that if he is re-elected he will give an update in six months on whether the new legislation was helping as much as it should.
"This is a great solution on paper," the senator said. "But it is on paper. There isn't a choice card being issued yet."
Graham faces State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, independent candidate and former state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, and Libertarian Victor Kocher in the November election.