New Mexico’s congressional delegation is demanding answers from the Veterans Administration after Albuquerque VA officials told congressional staffers this week that they must submit federal Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about VA health care policies.
All five delegation members – Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, Democratic Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan, and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce – signed a letter to Sloan D. Gibson, the acting VA secretary on Thursday. The letter said the Albuquerque VA’s insistence that members of Congress file official requests for information showed “an alarming ignorance or an utter disregard” for congressional oversight.
The letter stems from a conference call on Monday among staffers for the New Mexico congressional delegation and top staff at the Albuquerque VA, including interim Director Dr. James Robbins. Ongoing problems at the Albuquerque VA Hospital, punctuated by the June 30 death of Jim Napoleon Garcia, a Vietnam War veteran who suffered a heart attack in the hospital’s cafeteria on June 30 and died after waiting for an ambulance to arrive, prompted the conference call. The Department of Veterans Affairs remains under intense scrutiny for widespread reports of long delays for treatment and medical appointments and of veterans dying while on waiting lists.
“We have frequently asked the VA Hospital to provide us with its written policies and practices related to scheduling, patient wait time, bonus and performance award system, and general management issues including how schedulers are trained,” the letter said. “However, VA Hospital staff has repeatedly denied this information to us and most recently told our offices that we must file Freedom of Information Act requests for all written VA Hospital documentation. Such responses tremendously impede our constitutional responsibility to oversee the faithful execution of the laws we pass.”