Veteran Affairs issues take center stage at Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s town hall

Congressman Beto O'Rourke talking about Veteran Affairs issues at at Town Hall meeting. (Credit: KFOX14/CBS4)

There was a packed house for El Paso Rep. Beto O'Rourke at a town hall meeting at the East Side Senior Center, Friday.

Many came with the same burning question, what are we going to do about the VA?

O'Rourke, a Democrat, was able to share the three bills he wrote to help improve care.

“You try to go there and you can't get anything done. I've been there I’ve tried to apply and I still haven't been able to get VA benefits,” said veteran Robert Torres.

“The number of veterans who come forward at town hall meetings like this, while we are making progress, too many of them aren’t able to get care at a timely fashion or even at all. It's a reminder the job isn't done yet, there is a lot more to do,” said O’Rourke.

But O'Rourke shared some good news with the crowd -- three bills he authored passed the House of Representatives this week, no small feat these days.

They are part of a larger bill, H.R. 5620 known as the VA Accountability Act.

The bill allows for VA employees to be removed or demoted based off performance or misconduct.

“If someone is not performing the work, or abusing the system or not taking care of the patients, they should be held accountable. They are getting paid for a job, if they can’t do it, if they shortchange the system, they're stealing from the system, they're stealing for individuals who are just trying to receive basic care,” said Torres.

O'Rourke’s three bills include the "Vet Connect Act of 2016" which would allow the VA to quickly share medical files with private local providers without having to get specific prior authorization.

It helps cut through some of the red tape, while still falling within the confines of HIPPA.

“Why the VA hasn't been able to do it before who knows,” said O’Rourke.

The congressman explained this would allow vets to see local, private providers easily and quickly.

The Ask Veterans Act would provide for an annual survey of veterans experience at the VA, which O'Rourke said will provide transparency.

The 'Get Vets A Doc Now Act' could help the VA recruit.

“It allows the VA to begin recruiting new doctors and providers from graduate educational residencies so we can get them in the pipeline to take care of veterans more quickly,” said O'Rourke.

The bills were welcomed news to a crowd of mostly senior citizens and veterans with many feeling hopeful change could be on its way.

A similar bill would have to be approved by the Senate before it could become law.

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