Several members of the Florida congressional delegation are being told they will no longer be able to get office space inside of Veterans Administration (VA) buildings.
The move to cut off the staffs from office space in buildings will impact six members of the Florida delegation. Two Central Florida Democrats–U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto–share space in the VA Hospital complex at Lake Nona in Orlando. In South Florida, U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, R-Fla., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., have all been asked to stop using a VA center by the end of the year.
In a letter to Murphy, VA executive Richard Jones claimed the arrangement has no basis in law.
“Consequently, the secretary determined that departmental facilities currently allowing office space for non-clinical purposes are no longer to permit the use of those spaces by members of Congress or their staff,” Jones wrote.
Like the other members of the Florida delegation, Murphy is being asked to leave by the end of the year and she is incensed.
“Based on the experience to date, my office’s use of the Orlando VAMC provides a significant benefit to the veterans I represent,” Murphy insisted. “There are more than 35,000 veterans in my district, many of whom rely on the Orlando VAMC for their medical care. Currently, nearly one-quarter of the casework my office conducts pertains to veterans’ issues. Having a part-time office inside the Orlando VAMC gives veterans in my district—many of whom are elderly or disabled—a convenient location at which to seek assistance from my office on a range of federal issues. Instead of veterans having to travel to one of my two permanent district offices in downtown Orlando or Sanford, our VAMC office offers these veterans a convenient location they may visit before or after attending their medical appointments.”
While Murphy called the decision “unwise,” Mast used even harsher words.
“No other federal agency has been so plagued by crisis after crisis as the VA has, and apparently they will go to no end to avoid accountability,” Mast insisted. “Today the Department of Veterans Affairs chose to prioritize avoiding transparency and accountability over the veterans they are tasked with caring for.”
Mast described his staff office in the West Palm facility as the size of a storage closet. Murphy’s staff used similar language, likening her office to a broom closet with a desk and a couple of chairs.
With Soto’s support, Mast has authored a bill to force the VA to allow congressional offices in their facilities and has consistently harped on more accountability for the federal agency.
Murphy is asking the VA secretary to reconsider this action. A staffer for Murphy told Florida Daily that the congresswoman has no plans to leave the office early and hopes to help as many veterans as possible.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.