WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor expressing incredible frustration with federal agency employees that have been paid, but not working for the past year. The speech highlighted Lake Charles, Louisiana veteran Albert Duplantis and his year-long struggle to receive paperwork from the National Personnel Records Center required to obtain medical attention to treat his heart condition.
“We’re over one year into the pandemic and they’re still not processing records. Bureaucrats are sitting at home collecting a paycheck without working. This is unacceptable, with vaccines widely available, there is no excuse this mandatory work is not being done. If you aren’t willing to do your job, you shouldn’t have the job. These great Americans were willing to go to war for our freedom, but federal employees won’t go into the office to file paperwork. Meanwhile veterans like Mr. Duplantis are unable to receive medical treatment and other benefits they’re entitled to,” said Dr. Cassidy.
Cassidy’s full speech as prepared for delivery can be found below:
I rise today in incredible frustration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had federal agencies and employees not working for a year.
In April, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Social Security Administration During COVID: How the Pandemic Hampered Access to Benefits and Strategies for Improving Service Delivery.”
Following the hearing, and in response to my concerns that seniors in my state with issues getting their social security benefits are not being sufficiently served due to field and local offices being closed, my office got a letter from Commissioner Andrew Saul. The letter states “I urge you to encourage the unions to continue engaging in meaningful dialogue with management that includes a focus on the very best service to the public.” This is a nice way of saying we need your help to get the union to the table so we can get federal employees back to work.
We are talking about mandatory services — re-opening Social Security offices for in-person visits, in a post-vaccine world — to assist elderly Americans, your grandma and grandpa, having issues with their benefits. But this isn’t happening because government employees won’t show up to work.
The situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in connection with the National Archives and specifically the National Personnel Records Center is even worse.
According to the National Archives, the backlog of veterans’ records grew to more than 499,000 requests in April 2021. They estimate it will take 18 to 24 months to clear once the National Personnel Records Center is staffed at full capacity.
Despite the widespread availability of vaccines and recent relaxation of COVID-19 guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Personnel Records Center only moved to “phase two” on March 29, 2021. In phase two, the National Personnel Records Center has 25 percent of staff on-site. There are supposedly 200 employees per shift, two shifts a day, six days a week. But they are only processing emergency DD214 requests (immediate burials, hospitalizations, and homeless).
In the Veterans’ Affairs Committee we led a push to enable NPRC employees to get vaccines from VA’s allotment in an attempt to increase staffing. In the latest information provided to my office on this effort only 36 National Personnel Records Center employees took advantage of this availability. To put this in perspective, the full National Personnel Records Center workforce is approximately 600 employees.
These are not just numbers on a poster. There are very real consequences here. These are people’s lives. Like my constituent: Mr. Albert Duplantis, 69, of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Mr. Duplantis served our country during Vietnam. He was stationed aboard the USS Pyro. He has diabetes mellitus type II, atrial fibrillation, and hypertension – claimed as due to Agent Orange.
He needs treatment for his heart condition, but he cannot get the medical attention he needs because the National Personnel Records Center is not processing the needed military records during COVID-19 – the one the VA needs to make this happen.
His application for medical treatment for his heart condition was received by the VA on December 20, 2019 – yes that is 2019. In an early response, the VA provided a possible date of completion: March 23, 2021. March 23 has come and gone, but Mr. Duplantis’ application is stuck in limbo until the VA receives his military records from the National Personnel Records Center.
Let me repeat that. His treatment has been held up since 2019 because of inaction of the National Personnel Records Center.
We’re over one year into the pandemic and they’re still not processing records. Bureaucrats are sitting at home collecting a paycheck without working. This is unacceptable, with vaccines widely available, there is no excuse this mandatory work is not being done. If you aren’t willing to do your job, you shouldn’t have the job. These great Americans were willing to go to war for our freedom, but federal employees won’t go into the office to file paperwork.
Meanwhile veterans like Mr. Duplantis are unable to receive medical treatment and other benefits they’re entitled to.
This weekend we will observe Memorial Day. A time where we honor and mourn the men and women of the U.S. military that died during their service to this great country.
This is a reminder of the sacrifice so many willingly take without a second thought. It is an opportunity to do better for our veterans.
Mr. President, the National Personnel Records Center needs to get their house in order. They need to get back to work. Our veterans deserve better. Mr. Duplantis deserves medical treatment.
With that I yield back.