Time to fix the VA

While many view Memorial Day as the official start of summer vacation, let's not forget to pause and remember the men and women who "gave the last full measure of devotion" serving our nation. It is a day to remember those who died defending the freedoms we hold dear and acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to our service members and their families.

With eight uncles who served our nation in the Armed Forces and an active member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I know Memorial Day is a time not just to remember, but also to thank the 20 million living veterans in American. But we cannot stop there. As our veteran population ages and the post-9/11 generation of soldiers return to civilian life, they need a Department of Veterans Affairs that works for them.

Every year, the VA spends more than $150 billion and operates the largest health care system in the country, caring for 7 million veterans. Recent news stories, investigative reports and whistle-blowers have put a magnifying glass on what actually is happening at the VA. And the stories are horrifying, outrageous and unacceptable.

Sad to say, they are not new -- and I have been pointing these problems out for years. Additionally, there have been more than 50 federal reports highlighting systematic leadership and mismanagement failures at the VA. That is why I am pushing the VA Management Accountability Act to give the secretary of the VA the authority and responsibility to fire a bureaucrat who fails our veterans. We must continue to demand accountability and answers, both from VA Secretary Shinseki and his boss President Barack Obama. Leadership and accountability always has to start at the top.

Stories about VA employees "gaming the system" for bonuses and leaving veterans waiting months to receive crucial care have emerged in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Wyoming, Florida and Texas. The list continues to grow daily. Here in Kansas, we've seen continued management and personnel problems at the Topeka VA hospital, and veterans in Liberal have been without a doctor for two and a half years.

Yet the high-level bureaucrats who mess up in the VA are more likely to get a generous taxpayer-funded bonus than to get fired. For this reason, I co-sponsored and spoke on a provision we passed through the U.S. House last month to ban senior bureaucrat bonuses at the VA. And this is just a start to changing the culture at the VA.

Our veterans deserve the best, not a scandal-ridden, second-class health system where veterans die waiting on basic care. I have said it over and over again since I came to Congress -- our veterans should be able to visit their local doctor and hospital to receive care. It is time for Congress to consider veteran-choice legislation that would allow veterans to choose where they want their care. Simply put, we cannot let another veteran die while waiting for the government to provide critical medical care.

Memorial Day provides us an opportunity to ensure those who gave their lives for our nation did not do so in vain. It is a reminder of those veterans who survived and our sacred obligation to care for them. And it is long overdue to fix the VA system so it works for our veterans, not against them.

Thank you to all of the men and women who so selflessly have served our country. We owe you a debt of gratitude and know your courageous actions have not been forgotten.

"We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies."

* Moina Michael, 1915

Congressman Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., represents the First District in the U.S. House of Representatives.