Sen. Doug Jones Calls for Hearings to Investigate Veterans Affairs Nursing Home Performance

U.S. Senator Doug Jones said Thursday that he is cosponsoring a measure that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to present Congress with detailed annual performance reports on the nursing homes it runs.

Jones was reacting to a recent news report in USA Today that cited poor quality at the homes in Alabama and nationwide. The measure, an amendment to an appropriations bill, is being cosponsored by Jones and fellow Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; and Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

The appropriations bill has passed the House and is being considered in the Senate.

Earlier this month, Veterans Affairs released ratings for the 133 nursing homes it operates. The ratings are based on a five-star scale in three categories: staffing, survey and quality. Two federal nursing homes in Alabama – Central Alabama Health Care System East in Tuskegee and Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center – were rated one star for quality, the lowest score possible. In all, 60 of the nursing homes, 45 percent, received only one star.

The information on the nursing homes from the agency did not include explanations of the categories or methodology for how the rating were derived. In the June 19 article, USA Today reported it obtained internal documents that shed further, but not complete, light on the ratings.

Jones criticized the agency for not publicly sharing specific information about patient care and the medical facilities’ performance.

“The VA is withholding the data that went behind those reports. They are withholding from the public about the quality of 133 nursing homes nationwide.” Jones said, “This report is part of a long line of complaints against the VA. Poor patient care, long wait times, employee accountability and behavior, whistleblower retaliation all have been credibly cited as issues that the VA faces every day.”

Alabama is home to 409,696 veterans and recently was ranked as the 4th best state for military retirees by online financial advice site Wallet Hub.