Congressman Farenthold weighs in on signing of VA reform bill

Johnathan Silver By Johnathan Silver

Aug. 7, 2014 at 6:12 p.m.
Updated Aug. 7, 2014 at 11:17 p.m.

President Barack Obama signed a Department of Veterans Affairs reform bill into law Thursday, giving U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold news to deliver to his constituents at a summit in Victoria.

The legislation, which he said he fully supports, is a $16.3 billion measure that makes it easier to fire VA personnel and funds new VA clinics and personnel across the country.

The law also will pay for private doctors to serve veterans who can't get to a VA facility within 30 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic - changes that will help veterans in rural parts of the region.

These reforms come after reports of long waits for veterans led to some deaths and falsified records.

Though he favors the legislation, Farenthold said he would like to see more ability for veterans to see private doctors. Also, he said he would like to see some services, such as taking blood pressure, to be provided outside the VA, freeing up time to see veterans.

The VA goes through phases of being in the public eye and dropping off as problems present themselves, Farenthold said.

"When we're focused on it, I think things improve," he said. "And if you leave a bureaucracy to itself, it kind of festers."

Lt. Col. Wesley Reed, a Democrat challenger to Farenthold in the general election, criticized congressional Republicans and Farenthold for wanting the bill to be paid for up-front when Congress has sent "people off to war on a credit card."

Districts should have local veterans sit on independent review boards, and the Department of Health and Human Services and the VA should work together more to address the needs of veterans, he added, saying if both were focusing on veterans, then they'd have better access to health care.

"That should be the goal," Reed said.

Both politicians said the government can do more to serve veterans.

"We need to do what we need to do to keep the promises we made to veterans," Farenthold said. "It's a legal obligation, and it's a moral obligation."



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