Nomination of Vivek Hallegere Murthy to Be Medical Director in the Regular Corps of the Public Health Service, Subject to Qualifications Therefor as Provided By Law and Regulations, and to Be…by Former Senator Tom Coburn
Posted on 2014-12-15
COBURN. Reserving the right to object.
[[Page S6852]] The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Oklahoma.
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, first of all, I will say that I recognize the honor of the Senator from Connecticut for his distinguished service in the military.
I didn't serve in our military. I was actually in college during the Vietnam war. I drew No. 354 on the lottery the week before I was to be drafted. I had two brothers who served--not in Vietnam--in the military. My father and both uncles served during World War II. My grandfather was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the highest honor the French give, for his work during World War I.
I will also state that, as a physician, I know suicide all too well. I have failed patients in the past even though I did everything I knew to do. Yet they still took their lives.
I have also experienced it personally in my own family. I know this issue. I also know what we did 3\1/2\ months ago--we passed the Veterans Choice Act, which I ultimately voted against because it didn't do what we promised the veterans we would do.
To this day Secretary McDonald has fired one person out of hundreds who should have been fired because we didn't give him the right authority on that day to hold the VA accountable.
I have treated patients with the demons that these young men and women have when they come back from war--the night terrors and the conflict that happens when they turn a corner and get a flashback of where they were versus seeing their wife and daughter. On top of that, they have the guilt that has built up, and they wonder to themselves, what is wrong with me? Thirty-four percent of the people who are applying for mental health benefits today from the VA are getting seen within the appropriate time. Almost everything in the bill has already been authorized and approved with the $10 billion that we sent to the VA.
When every veteran--regardless of how long his hair is or how unshaven or how scraggly or how nice he looks--is greeted with a smile and a ``yes, sir'' or ``yes, ma'am,'' when they are treated with the respect they deserve at every veterans facility because they served and some of us didn't, that is when we know we have put the VA back on course.
My great colleague from Connecticut is going to be the ranking member on the VA Committee, along with Johnny Isakson from Georgia. I have a challenge for him. I am going to be objecting to this bill because it throws money out there and doesn't solve the real problem. I know most of my colleagues disagree with me on that, but I actually did the work.
I started a year before all the VA scandals started, and I documented nearly 1,000 deaths at the hands of lack of our oversight and the lack of us holding the VA accountable. People are going to make mistakes all the time, but we are the ones who have no excuse for not holding the VA accountable.
Our veterans deserve the very best. We cannot eliminate all of the tragedies that occur with war. Some of the most remarkable things happened during this bill.
I have a military liaison who had significant injuries as a result of serving this country. He got targeted by the veterans groups who wanted to pass this bill--talk about dishonoring a veteran. You are going after my MLA who served this country with distinction, who has had multiple operations because of his injuries and second degree burns in his service to this country. Nothing could be lower than that. That is politics at its worst.
So I believe in all my heart--I prayed all weekend. How do I answer this question? And the answer to the question is to do the hard work over the next year. Don't pass another bill. Hold the VA accountable. There should be a hearing every week on every aspect of every aspect of everything the VA does for the whole next 2 years so that they, in fact, will treat the people who put their lives on the line with the very respect, the very service that they so richly earned and we have spoiled because we undervalue it.
We have great employees at most of the VA facilities, but we have some stinkers. Until we change the attitude, until we hold the administration of the Veterans' Administration accountable, we will never change the attitude that our veterans aren't getting the very best. And they deserve the very best.
My heart breaks for the people who commit suicide. Do we know what it is? They find no relief anywhere else except death. There is no answer for them. We don't give it to them. We have failed them. I personally have failed them in my own medical practice. So they look at the only option that gives them relief from the tremendous pressure and tension they are experiencing.
I had a very close friend in the House whose son took his own life. We spent years building and loving that family to help them to deal with that loss. Catastrophic events, depression, and situations lead people to suicide--not any one individual. They are searching for an answer we have failed to give them. They are searching for the support and the nurturing and the love that needs to be there to say: I am going to mentor you and get you through this. That is where the VA has failed. That is where the military has failed. That is where we have failed.
Even the Veterans' Administration says everything in this bill has already been authorized. So what is it really about? It is about addressing an issue without addressing the issue. The real, hard work will come when, on C-SPAN, with me sitting in Oklahoma, I get to see Dick Blumenthal and Johnny Isakson grilling every aspect of the VA to make sure they are top notch, they are putting their sacrifice on the line the same way our soldiers do. That is when we start changing things.
So, regrettably, I object to this bill, not because I don't want to help save suicides but because I don't think this bill is going to do the first thing to change what is happening. What is going to change what is happening is when we as Members of the Senate and the Congress start bearing down and creating the transparency that is necessary so that Americans can see that our veterans are getting everything they deserve and a ``yes, sir'' and a ``no, sir,'' a ``no ma'am,'' a ``yes ma'am,'' a smile, and a greeting, and when they interact with the VA, they leave there fulfilled and proud that they are a veteran.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Objection is heard.