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Price: On VA Scandal, A Long Way Yet To Go

Last Friday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki tendered his resignation amidst a growing scandal involving long wait times—and cover-ups of those wait times—at VA hospitals nationwide.

But will Shinseki’s resignation actually accomplish anything? How adequate is our government’s commitment to our veterans? How high is the quality of treatment in the VA system in general? And what are the next steps, to address what appears to be a widespread problem?

Congressman David Price (D-Chapel Hill) joined Aaron Keck on the Afternoon News this week to discuss the issue.

David Price is a member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. Immediately following Shinseki’s resignation, he issued the following statement:

I remain deeply troubled by the irresponsible and unacceptable scheduling practices uncovered by the VA Inspector General’s preliminary report. I respect Secretary Shinseki’s decision to resign and hope it will allow Congress to act on the IG’s complete report, without delay or distraction, to fix the problems and hold those responsible accountable.

I expect the VA’s review to be proactive, not reactive. The VA needs to look at all of its processes, from top to bottom, from the time veterans walk in the door until their treatment is complete, to ensure they are receiving timely, quality care. Obsolete systems and processes need to be identified and replaced, and personnel levels must be commensurate with the needs of our nation’s veteran population. I will work to ensure my subcommittee is a partner in overseeing and funding the effort to meet the needs of a 21st century VA. Anything less would be a disservice to veterans and to the many exemplary VA employees who care for those who have served our country.


U.S. Labor Sec’y: Funds Needed For Unemployed Vets

CHAPEL HILL – The nationwide unemployment rate is slowly dropping but still high, a trend that also applies to specific demographic groups, including America’s veterans.

Now, with budget season already upon us, Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Seth Harris says the Obama administration is calling for more than $350 million in additional federal funding for veterans’ services—including several programs designed to get former service members into jobs.

“(The President is) investing an additional $100 million in the U.S. Department of Labor so that we can help these transitioning service members and veterans and their spouses, and National Guard and Reserve, get into good, reliable, middle-class jobs,” Harris said Wednesday on the WCHL Evening News with Aaron Keck.

The President’s proposal includes an extra $38 million for veterans’ employment representatives across the country; a $5 million increase in the federal Transition Assistance Program for veterans exiting active duty; and perhaps most notably, an extra $50 million for the Workforce Innovation Fund.

“This community faces barriers that a lot of other folks don’t face,” says Harris. “A lot of people in the civilian world don’t know what a military occupational specialty prepares you to do in civilian life…so there are a lot of challenges that this community faces.

“We need new ideas…so we’re going to put that money out there, challenge the workforce investment system and community colleges and other enterprises to get in the game (and) help us figure out these problems–and then we’ll scale them up across the country if they’re successful.”

Of course nothing is certain in Washington, especially with an ongoing budget crunch—but as for the politics of it all, Harris says he’s confident the two parties can at least come together around veterans’ affairs.

“My experience in Washington has been that the partisan divide that’s so prominent right now is often traversed…when it comes to helping veterans and transitioning service members and military families,” he says.

At the end of 2012, the overall unemployment rate for veterans was 7.0 percent, down from 8.3 percent in 2011. For post-9/11 vets, the rate was much higher: 9.9 percent in 2012, down from 12.1 percent the previous year.