In a fundraising email, Rep. Paul Gosar essentially accused me of killing veterans during my tenure at the Northern Arizona Veterans Administration. I want to thank the representative for raising the topic of my time at the VA, and the often-overlooked veterans it serves, so I can set the record straight.
Our district has a larger contingent of veterans in its population than any other in Arizona and I’m very happy to compare what I have done for them as a doctor with how Rep. Gosar has failed them as their representative.
I joined the VA in 2006, and in 2012 I assumed leadership of primary care for northern Arizona, based at the Prescott VA hospital. Our system routinely sent many patients to consult with specialists at the Phoenix VA. When the Phoenix VA wait-time scandal hit in 2014, Phoenix immediately closed its doors to our veterans to focus on its own.
Because we had only a small regional specialist network in northern Arizona, our Prescott VA had to quickly build one with new contracts. During this time our VA received many audits and inspections related to clinical operations and data-reporting. Thanks to the culture of transparency that the facility had implemented over the years, our Prescott VA passed every test.
Over the following two years, multiple departments experienced delays. Until we received additional funding, thanks to the joint leadership of Senators John McCain and Bernie Sanders, our front lines were short-staffed and under-supported across the board.
These were not easy years for veterans, non-VA providers and VA staff. But VA policy is clear – namely, any veteran with emergent or urgent needs goes to the front of the line. That policy effectively prevents deaths across the system.
Multiple investigations of the Arizona VA system, requested by the late Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, showed no evidence of any death due to delays in coverage. The reports pointed to problems with rapid growth of the patient population and lack of funding for VA services, which Rep. Gosar could have tried to address, but did not.
If Rep. Gosar had any evidence of veteran deaths caused by delays of care at the Northern Arizona (Prescott) VA that were somehow overlooked in repeated investigations, it would be his profound duty as a citizen and representative to immediately report it to government authorities, including the Office of the Inspector General. But there is no such evidence, and it’s just this sort of recklessness with the truth that led the Arizona Republic editors to call Rep. Gosar “a disgrace to Arizona.”
Through this entire period, Rep. Gosar’s contribution to the debate has been pitifully inadequate. His record is nonexistent when it comes to legislation to properly fund the VA or correct its institutional failures, and our veterans suffer as a result.
When word leaked that people outside the government had substantial policy influence on the VA because of their access to the president, Rep. Gosar was silent. He has publicly dismissed the opioid crisis, preferring to blame foreign criminals for a home-grown problem. His record on visiting and speaking with our hospitalized veterans is abysmal. On this issue his support for veterans is insincere. His record shows that he represents only those who would happily eliminate veterans health services from government entirely.
I will go to Congress as aware and active on veterans issues as Paul Gosar has been lazy and inattentive. I will challenge the VA to do better and more for those who have given their best for all of us. The VA is one of the largest agencies in government and has become overgrown with bureaucracy. It needs reshaping into a responsive and attentive agency that listens as well as it commands. My pledge to you is to tackle these issues fearlessly and head on, as I have done in the past.
Dr. David Brill
Candidate for Congressional District 4