The House Republican Conference chairwoman has what she sees as a simple fix to improve veterans medical care.
She also worries that nothing seems easy when it comes to reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"We need to be welcoming new solutions, and not just protecting an outdated model or having the only solution be more money," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said. "We've already put a lot of money into VA … and clearly there's not the results."
McMorris Rodgers is offering new legislation this week which would create a pilot program at six VA health sites allowing patients to schedule appointments online, in an effort to give veterans more control over their medical care.
Results from those moves so far have been mixed, with a slow and controversial rollout of a new Choice Card program to give veterans easier access to private-sector physicians and limited use of new rules governing the firing of poorly performing VA executives.
So lawmakers are back at fixes for VA again.
Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., this week introduced a bill to create a "rapid response team" of VA managers to identify and improve failing department offices. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., wants to expand and make permanent the Choice Card program. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has a measure to force better outreach efforts between the department and veterans.
Earlier this month, both the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees advanced the new VA Accountability Act, which eases the process for firing any department employees and creates new protections for whistleblowers.
This week, House Republican leaders (including McMorris Rodgers) will push that measure to a full chamber vote, billing it as the next step in making the department more responsive to veterans.
"Unfortunately, I don't believe (VA) is better than a year ago," McMorris Rodgers said. "We need the Accountability Cct. We need the secretary to take action against poorly performing employees."
And she said the department needs to start moving beyond seeing itself as the center of all solutions for veterans' needs. She said her pilot program and the Choice Card efforts are just the start of broader efforts to move beyond "overly bureaucratic" solutions that have already stalled.
To VA officials and some outside critics, those proposals point toward privatization of department responsibilities, an idea that veterans advocates have fought against passionately in the past.
But McMorris Rodgers insists the idea is to put veterans at the center of the care programs, a mantra often repeated by VA Secretary Bob McDonald since he took over that job last August.
She said rural veterans in her district still struggle to access VA hospitals or private health care options, and "feel like they are a burden" whenever they petition the department for help. "The veterans are getting lost within the very agency that's supposed to be helping them."
McMorris Rodgers said she approached department officials with the idea of the online scheduling pilot months ago, but saw the idea dismissed as too difficult to execute. She's hoping now her congressional colleagues will see things differently, and force the VA to try something new.
The legislation will head to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee for review in the coming months. Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on the new accountability measures before the end of the week.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.