In May 2016, former Sen. Mark Kirk and then-Rep. Tammy Duckworth asked the Office of Inspector General to make a visit to the Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Affairs facility in Hines, IL. The site was in need of a health care inspection, they charged. They had heard reports of cockroach infestation in the Hines facility’s food service area, with patients reportedly even receiving food trays containing the bugs. Worse, the leadership knew about the unsanitary conditions but did not act.
Upon inspection, the OIG unfortunately found many of these rumors to be true.
We substantiated the persistent presence of cockroaches in and around NFS areas. During our unannounced site visit on May 10, 2016, we found dead cockroaches on glue traps dispersed throughout the facility’s main kitchen. We observed conditions favorable to pest infestation. In the main kitchen, we found open cardboard boxes with dry food products exposed, food items in open cardboard boxes that were stored less than 6 inches from the floor, several cracks in the flooring, water infiltration around the floor drains, and trash receptacles without lids.
In summary, the facility was “favorable to pest infestation,” but not to veterans.
These conditions are precisely why the Concerned Veterans for America are urging Congress to not just throw money at the problem of rampant issues at the VA. Accountability is the real solution, CVA Director Dan Caldwell noted in an op-ed Tuesday. The VA is already “swimming in taxpayer money,” he said. What the VA needs is an overhaul.
Instead, Congress should look to reduce redundancy in the VA budget and allocate resources toward priority needs. Eliminating waste and duplication in the VA’s budget will free up more money for important programs that arguably should receive increased investment, like mental health services, the Veterans Board of Appeals and specialized centers that treat veterans with severe service-connected injuries.
The disgusting environment at the Hines VA, Caldwell noted, is also proof that the agency needs more power to fire bad employees.
Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which gives the VA that very authority, is a good start, he said.