In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln wrote what would become the motto and mission of the Veterans Affairs Department: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan."
More than 150 years later, over 9 million of our veterans rely on the VA for their healthcare. Thousands of talented and passionate VA healthcare professionals serve our massive veteran population every day. And the quality of VA care is on par with most civilian health systems. Unfortunately, that quality is not distributed evenly.
In 2014, reports revealed that the VA was unable to live up to its mission. Veterans were trapped on long waitlists. Facilities were in disrepair. Leaders faced accusations of mismanagement. Bureaucracy created bottlenecks. Our veterans health system was in need of significant reform.
A good first step toward fixing the problem was the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which gave veterans facing limited access to timely care the ability to choose a community hospital or local doctor.
But what was needed most was a major, top-to-bottom overhaul of the entire system to improve care and guarantee access for our veterans.
In 2015, Congress created the Commission on Care and appointed 15 men and women to take a deep dive into how to improve the care being provided to our veterans and their families.
We were honored and grateful to serve on this commission with fellow medical experts, hospital administrators, veterans and advocates. We were tasked with evaluating current access to VA healthcare services; determining how to best deliver care to veterans over the next two decades; and make recommendations for systemic improvements throughout the VA.
During our 10-month examination, the commission reviewed the 4,000-page Independent Assessment Report chartered by Congress, conducted 26 days of public hearings, and received input and testimony from every stakeholder in the VA system. We also visited Veterans Health Administration facilities to see the conditions firsthand.
Our report detailed 18 specific reforms for the VA and Congress, many of which were ultimately included in the VA Mission Act of 2018, which President Donald Trump signed this month.
The act gives veterans the ability to choose convenient community healthcare providers, ensures timely access to care, aligns rates with Medicare and expedites payments, and supports education programs to help veterans understand their benefits and care options.
The VA is also making progress toward our other suggested improvements that were not included in the Mission Act, such as including online appointment scheduling, wait time transparency, action to bolster underperforming facilities, and plans to shift the VA's convoluted electronic health record system to a sophisticated solution used by most modern healthcare providers.
We were pleased to see the VA Mission Act pass through both houses of Congress with overwhelming support, and thankful to the president for signing it.
But the job is not done. We urge Congress to fund the provisions in this new law and make these positive steps a reality for veterans who have waited far too long for the care they deserve.
And we urge the VA to embrace the development of robust leadership programs and internal leadership succession planning. Doing this will ensure that improvements made today will not be undone tomorrow.
The two VA committees in Congress—the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee—worked in a deliberate, thoughtful and remarkably bipartisan way to help ensure that every veteran can get the right care at the right time from the right provider.
These investments will provide lasting benefits and long-term cost savings to the VA system, keep veterans in control of their care experience, and honor our promise—and President Lincoln's promise—to those who have served their country so honorably.