Rubio: “Throughout our history, they have given us everything. When they return home, they deserve the same from us. Paying lip service to veterans is always in vogue, but the true measure of public service on this issue – quite frankly, on any issue – is the willingness to make tough decisions and endorse bold reforms. Nothing less will suffice. Nothing less will honor our veterans. This plan deserves the attention of everyone who owes something to our nation’s veterans, and that happens to be every single one of us.”
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) addressed a veterans health care policy summit hosted by the Concerned Veterans for America’s (CVA) Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, which released its findings and recommendations on the best ways to deliver quality, timely care to our nation’s veterans.
Last year, Rubio was the lead Senate sponsor of the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, which was signed into law and gives VA secretaries authority to fire or demote VA Senior Executive Service (SES) or equivalent employees based on performance.
Video of the speech is available here, and the transcript is below:U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Remarks As Prepared For Delivery
Rubio Addresses Veterans Health Care Policy Summit
Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill
February 26, 2015
I want to thank everyone with Concerned Veterans for America for your invitation to speak today. This is an organization that fights for those who have fought for us, and it’s one of the organizations we really rely on up here to do our work and to promote some of the reforms that we’ve talked about in the past. So I’m grateful for the work you’ve done and continue to do. I want to specifically thank the people involved in this taskforce: Senator Frist, who you just heard from a moment ago, Congressman Marshall, Dr. Kussman, Avik Roy and everyone who served on the taskforce that produced today’s report. I believe that the issue at hand has the potential to sway the future of our nation, and I believe that the way we go about solving it is a measure of our honor as a society.
You see, this morning, all around the world, the men and women of our armed forces woke up far from home, far from their families, far from safety, far from the comfort that you and I enjoy. But everything they do today, every sacrifice they will make, every risk they will take, will center on one goal: protecting our people and our interests, that’s protecting my family and my children.
Today, the work they do isn’t just visible on the international page. We feel it in our household budgets, we feel it in our economy. The world is increasingly interconnected. The world is increasingly reliant on global trade and commerce. And a robust and prosperous global trade and commerce that our economy relies on is not possible without safety and security. And the single greatest force for safety and security on the planet is the men and women of the armed forces of the United States of America.
What I find most humbling about the men and women that serve us, is that they chose to live this life of sacrifice. They chose to put our safety above their own. They chose to be ambassadors of America’s moral principles, even in places where those principles are often met with violent hatred.
And I know this because I have met them. I’ve met them throughout the world – from the mountains of Afghanistan to Japan to the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, and even closer to home, I’ve met them at the USS Iwo Jima in Mayport to the F-35 flight training center at Eglin. I have visited them on their ships, at their headquarters, and their mess halls. At Southern Command and Central Command, and Special Operations Command that call Florida home. I’ve heard their stories – but most important, we’ve also heard their concerns.
So while they are spread across the globe defending our freedom, our first job is to ensure they have the best training and equipment to meet the challenges they face while deployed, which is why I'm so concerned about the continuing impact that sequestration is having on our military's readiness. We’ve always made our men and women in uniform a promise: we will never put them in a fair fight. They will always be better trained, better armed, with better intelligence and better information than their enemy. And that is a promise that if we ever fail to keep, the world will be less safe and less stable. And so will the Americans that serve us.
The second job that we have, by the way, in the obligation that we have to them is equally important, if not more so. And that’s what brings us here today. And that is what do we do for our veterans when they come home? And we have an obligation to serve them with the devotion as they have served us with.
That requires deeds, not just words. Applause and praise are not enough to constitute a fulfillment of our duty, not when the toll of battle is so high. Not when veterans and their families often face a lifetime of grappling with the traumas of war – scars that we can see, and also the many that we cannot.
As the recommendations of this taskforce make clear, we have a long way to go before we can say that we are properly caring for those who have cared for us. The Department of Veterans Affairs is simply buckling under the weight of its own bureaucracy, slowed to tragic levels of unresponsiveness, and still feeling the effects of scandal.
It is unresponsive to those who deserve responsiveness the most, including our many veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental traumas. This incompetence, by the way, has been clearly evident to me in my role representing Florida in the U.S. Senate. My state has over one and a half million veterans, and since I entered office we have had more constituent casework focused on helping veterans navigate the federal bureaucracy than on any other issue. In fact, I was reading our constituent service report last night, and there was a name on there. It was Mario Rubio Garcia. That’s my brother, who has been grappling himself with a claim for a very long time, let’s put it that way, from his service from 1969 to 1971 in the U.S. Army.
So around this time last year, I proposed – and Congress passed – legislation to increase accountability by giving the VA secretary the simple right to fire people that aren’t doing their jobs, particularly from among the department’s massive ranks of so-called “executive leaders,” who were known to be manipulating records and fostering a culture of scandal. My hope was that this would lead to a cleaning of the house. But so far only three executives have been fired, and only one of those was related to the VA scandal. And you cannot tell me that there is only one senior executive person in the VA who had a role to play in the scandals that we face, not with a bureaucracy of that size and scope.
At its heart, this reveals what the problem is with the VA. At its root, it’s is similar to other problems facing our country, and that is that Washington remains stuck in yesterday, in the past and it’s resistant to any reforms or modernizations.
The same Department of Veterans Affairs that was established in 1930 is simply not going to work in the 21st century. We now face demographic and health care realities that couldn’t have been imagined during World War II. In fact, one of the great advances is that men and women injured in combat today are now surviving injuries that once cost them their lives. But it requires a lifetime of care. We owe it to them. And this system simply cannot provide it.
But instead of reforming the VA, what is Washington proposing to do? What they do with every problem facing our country with something that no longer works: Well if we just pour more money into the broken, outdated model, at some point it will have to work. It won’t work. The model doesn’t work anymore. The challenges before our veterans have changed, and the way we provide service to them must change as well.
The result of the current system is pretty straightforward: Our veterans today are facing, and are met with the same charm and the same efficiency from the Veterans Administration as they get from the Department of Motor Vehicles or the IRS. I believe they deserve a lot better than that. And so do the members of this taskforce.
Senator Frist, Congressman Marshall and the rest of the team put a plan to reform the VA by infusing it not with more money, but with two of the best attributes of our private sector: choice and competition. First, they would turn it into an independent, government-chartered non-profit corporation. And that would free the VA from its bureaucratic and political constraints. It would become an independent entity – and here’s the most important part – it would have to compete for patients.
If veterans do not feel like the VHA suits his or her needs, the veteran would be given the option to use the exact same funds to see an approved private sector provider of his or her choice. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. First, because this is what our veterans want and deserve. 90% of veterans say they want more options for their health care. It also makes sense on principle. Bureaucrats at the VA are not commanding officers. They should never have the authority to order around our returning heroes. And the fact that those very bureaucrats have more options for their own health care than the veterans they are supposed to be working for is immoral and makes no sense.
This premium support model is also exactly what we need to jolt the VA back to life. As soon as the VA is forced to compete with the private sector providers, it will increase the efficiency, the service and its innovation. Veteran-minded innovations and services will also proliferate among the private sector providers. We know this because similar programs are doing it, like Medicare Advantage, which allows seniors to pay for coverage from a private provider using funds from Medicare. What it’s done is it has prompted providers to compete for business by tacking on all sorts of value-added services. For example, one of the reasons why my mother picked a Medicare Advantage plan is because, in addition to good doctors, they give her a ride to and from her doctor’s appointments. Shouldn’t veterans at least have the option to get the same care and attention? Competition also carries the potential to drive down prices, as we’ve seen with Medicare Part D. The exact same cost-saving efficiency would also be brought about from these VA reforms.
Let me just conclude by saying we have asked a great deal of our men and women in uniform in recent years – much that they have already given, and much that remains to be given in the years ahead. Today we face no shortage of enemies. From aggressive emerging powers to states seeking weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors and terrorist groups. We are at war with radical jihadists who hate us not because of what we do or have done, but because who we are. They behead Americans. They immolate prisoners. They bury children alive. They enslave women. They take Christians hostage with the intent of killing them. There is no retrievable dignity in ISIL. They need to be hunted down and they need to be destroyed.
And who are we going to ask to do this? Members of Congress? The President? The United Nations? We’re going to ask our men and women in uniform. And they deserve that we devote the necessary resources to our national defense and equip them properly – with the latest and the greatest equipment, but also with the smartest policies and strategies. I believe that properly equipped, properly trained, they will never fail us, no matter what mission we assign.
Throughout our history, they have given us everything. When they return home, they deserve the same from us. Paying lip service to veterans is always in vogue, but the true measure of public service on this issue – quite frankly, on any issue – is the willingness to make tough decisions and endorse bold reforms. Nothing less will suffice. Nothing less will honor our veterans. This plan deserves the attention of everyone who owes something to our nation’s veterans, and that happens to be every single one of us.
We, as Americans, have a significant commitment to those who serve. The way we honor them separates us from our enemies and it gives our veterans a tangible reminder of what they fought so hard to protect. It reminds them that, while war takes away so much, it can never take away the gratitude and the support of their fellow Americans.