Obama Signs VA Overhaul, Dings Senate on Failure to Confirm Nominees (Video)
Posted at 1:18 p.m. on Aug. 7
Obama dinged the Senate for their failure to confirm some of his nominees to work under McDonald, pictured above with Sanders. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
President Barack Obama signed the overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs Thursday at Fort Belvoir in Virginia — but not before dinging the Senate for failing to confirm more of his nominees for senior VA jobs.
Several members of Congress received shoutouts from the president: Sens. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., and Reps. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine.
Obama called the long wait times “outrageous” and suggested the bill would help newly appointed VA Secretary Robert McDonald get rid of employees who have engaged in misconduct.
“If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired, period. It shouldn’t be that difficult,” Obama said.
Obama said reforms have already helped 215,000 veterans who had been stuck on wait lists, and the new law would allow them the ability to see private doctors if wait times are too long or they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
Obama also called for ending the disability claims backlog, improving mental health care for veterans and ending veterans’ homelessness.
And he dinged the Senate for failing to confirm several top nominees under McDonald.
“I urge the Senate, once again, to finally confirm my nominee for assistant secretary for policy at the VA, Linda Schwartz; my nominee to lead the board of Veterans Appeals, Constance Tobias; my nominee for CFO, Helen Tierney.
Each of them have been waiting for months for a yes-or-no vote. In Constance’s case, for more than a year. They’re ready to serve. They’re ready to get to work. It’s not that hard. It didn’t used to be this hard to just go ahead and get somebody confirmed who’s well qualified. Nobody says they’re not. It’s just — the Senate doesn’t seem to move very fast.”
Obama said the Senate should act as soon as they come back in September.
“Our veterans don’t have time for politics. They need these public servants on the job right now,” he said.
Obama also made his first public remarks on the death of Major General Harold Greene this week in Afghanistan.
“Our prayers are with the Greene family, as they are with all the gold star families and those who’ve sacrificed so much for our nation,” Obama said. “Now, four months from now, our combat mission to Afghanistan will be complete. Our longest war will come to an honorable end. In the years to come, many from this generation will step out of uniform. Their legacy will be secure. But whether or not this country properly repays their heroism, properly repays their patriotism, their service, and their sacrifice: that’s in our hands.”