Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at VA Office of Inspector General Hearing
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General hearing:
Good morning. Today we welcome the Honorable Michael Missal, Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Office of Inspector General serves the important purpose to combat waste, fraud, and abuse within the Department and works to ensure the nation’s taxpayer dollars are well spent. Under your watch, Mr. Missal, OIG sees a $21 return on investment for every dollar spent in your office.
While you are proving to be a good steward of the taxpayer dollar, VA still has many challenges that I trust are under close scrutiny by your office.
We have a solemn responsibility to those who have served our country to care for their health and well-being following their service. Which leads me to say that I have grave concerns over the implementation of the electronic health record system. We have a $10 billion contract with Cerner for the EHR system, with an additional $6 billion in infrastructure and oversight costs. The total electronic health record system modernization is projected to cost $16 billion and take ten years to fully implement across the country.
It is our responsibility – with your help, Mr. Missal, and with the help of GAO – to oversee this enormous implementation, and make sure we are actually getting what we are paying for. This includes ensuring VA has full clinician buy-in at the local levels and that we achieve full interoperability of medical records between VA and the Department of Defense.
While VA is implementing the electronic health record modernization, VA is simultaneously implementing MISSION Act requirements – and I would like to note that both efforts are being led without confirmed leadership in place. That is very troubling to me.
VA recently came out with access standards that allow even more veterans to go outside of traditional VA services to receive care in the private sector beginning in June. We need to make sure we are not pushing veterans outside of the VA system unnecessarily, and we take careful consideration of each veteran’s needs and access to care.
I also worry about the projected cost to implement MISSION Act standards. The President’s Budget requests $8.9 billion this year to implement MISSION Act, and I have concerns about the reality of this number when CBO projected it would cost $10 billion.
VA continues to struggle with staffing issues across the board - at the leadership level and local facilities. VA most recently reported it has 49,000 vacancies, and 43,000 of those vacancies are within VHA – the Veterans Health Administration, where veterans go to receive health care.
How can we properly provide care within existing VA services if VA is not properly staffed to do so? It is no wonder VA’s MISSION Act access standards are so expansive.
As I have mentioned in other hearings, I continue to have significant concerns over the effectiveness of VA’s mental health and suicide prevention programs and putting the funding we provide to the best use, which includes actually spending the money we provide VA for these purposes.
That being said – I am glad to see that the President’s budget request for the Office of Inspector General is at least moving in the right direction. The fiscal year 2020 budget request is $207 million, a $15 million increase over the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
However, given the wide range of new initiatives and significant challenges facing VA and our veterans, I am concerned if this funding is adequate for the effective oversight to successfully combat waste, fraud, and abuse within the Department and ensure that taxpayer’s dollars are being well spent.
Mr. Missal, thank you again for joining us today. We look to your oversight and leadership to tackle these tough issues, and to your work with the department to provide a way forward to ensure taxpayer dollars are being thoughtfully and effectively spent. I look forward to your testimony.