U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford said Thursday that Washington is so broken that it took him more than a year to win approval from the Veterans Affairs Department to build a clinic in Pahrump for military veterans.
The Nevada Democrat said it took a VA scandal over long wait times to see doctors, public pressure and the appointment of new VA Secretary Robert McDonald to overcome gridlock in the nation’s capital and a maze of red tape to win approval. Now, the 20,000-square-foot Pahrump clinic is scheduled to break ground in September.
“I ultimately had to go on national TV” and complain about the delay, Horsford said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board. “Fifteen minutes after the interview ended, my office got a call back” from the VA.
A week after McDonald was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in, Horsford said the new chief signed a piece of paper approving the clinic for the veterans in the town 64 miles west of Las Vegas.
McDonald, a former Procter &Gamble CEO, visited Las Vegas last week to address the National Disabled Veterans convention. He also toured the $1 billion VA Medical Clinic in North Las Vegas and met with Horsford and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., a physician and Army Reserve officer who served in Iraq.
Horsford had nothing but praise for McDonald, who he said plans to visit Reno VA facilities next week.
“This is a no-nonsense leader,” Horsford said. “He’s going nationwide to see the problems firsthand.”
Horsford, a freshman elected in 2012, represents the 4th Congressional District, which covers urban North Las Vegas and all or part of six counties, including Nye County where Pahrump is located.
He said an estimated 30 percent of the population there are veterans. His district also includes Nellis and Creech Air Force bases.
The VA facilities in Nevada already are improving despite a doctor shortage, he said. For example, the Las Vegas office has 33 claims processors compared with three in the recent past. Horsford has made veterans affairs a priority.
“It’s going to get better, but it’s going to take time,” he said.
One thing that would help, he said, is having the University of Nevada, Las Vegas establish a medical school that would offer medical residencies to keep trained doctors in Southern Nevada, where 70 percent of the state’s population lives.
“We don’t have a trained workforce in health care,” Horsford said.
If re-elected Nov. 4, Horsford said the housing crisis would be another priority for him. He said he wants to help first-time homebuyers and those who are upside down on their loans and need to refinance or get loan modifications. He said he doesn’t think the housing market is making a real comeback yet because many buyers are investors looking to make money.
“People in my district still need relief,” he said, adding that 30 percent of homeowners he represents still owe more on their houses than they’re worth on the market.
During the interview, Horsford said it’s difficult to accomplish much in Congress with the two political parties at war, but he has tried to focus on bipartisan legislation, including VA reform, especially with the Nevada delegation.
“The people of my district are quite frustrated with the broken ways of Washington,” he said.
Horsford is running for re-election to a two-year term against Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, who is considered the underdog in the race to represent the district that leans Democratic by voter registration.
Asked what differentiates him from Hardy, Horsford deflected the question. He said he’s focused on doing his job representing 700,000 Nevadans who live in his vast district, which covers 52,000 square miles.
“I’m focused on the issues,” Horsford said. “The election will take care of itself in November.”
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702 387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.