A nationwide audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was released this week. It indicates that 57,000 veterans have waited more than 90 days for an appointment at VA medical facilities and 64,000 requested medical care but did not even get onto a waiting list. The audit also found that 13 percent of schedulers were told to falsify appointment requests to make the wait times appear to be shorter than they actually were.
Sloan Gibson, acting VA secretary, said in response to the audit findings, “These problems demand immediate actions.” The acting secretary said further that VA would spend additional $300 million to pay for extra hours for VA medical staff and contract with private clinics to get veterans prompt medical care. Gibson also eliminated the 14-day scheduling goal for initial VA appointments by veterans, a policy that was unrealistic and caused persistent cheating among medical bureaucrats whose annual bonuses where connected to reaching that goal.
The House unanimously passed HR 4810 that requires VA to let veterans who have waited for an appointment to be sent to health care providers outside of the VA. The bill also prohibits bonuses for senior VA officials through FY 2016. The House had earlier passed a bill (H.R. 4310) that provides authority for the VA Secretary to discharge senior management staff for misconduct. Both bills are sponsored by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating criminal misconduct at the VA.
The Senate amended H.R. 3220 with the provisions of the “Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act” (S. 2450), and passed the bill (93-3). The amended bill now goes back to the House to concur with the Senate amendment and send it on to the President to be signed into law. The amended bill intends to provide veterans with quicker access to health care by allowing VA-enrolled veterans who have been on waiting lists and enrolled veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to receive a “Choice Card” that allows them to go to Medicare providers, Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) and federally qualified health care centers. VA already spends about $5 billion a year on private sector health providers. Eligibility for such care is complex and varies by veteran status and condition. The bill would make it easier for VA to use outside providers and the bill further provides:
- An additional $500 million to the VA to hire more doctors and nurses;
- Authorizes 26 new VA medical facility leases;
- Enhances authority for the VA Secretary to fire senior VA executives;
- Creates a new independent commission to review patient scheduling problems;
- In-state tuition for veterans using GI Bill benefits; and
- GI Bill benefits transfer to spouses of fallen troops.
Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their U.S. Senators to support S. 2450 and to ask their Representative to support H.R. 4310. For additional information on this issue, members can read the June 12, 2014 Military Update on the FRA website.