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Congress Agrees on VA Reform Before Leaving for Recess

Sen. Corker votes against bill because vets "deserve a Congress that has the discipline to pay for legislation it passes."

Bill Straub


August 2, 2014 - 5:32 pm
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WASHINGTON – Congress has passed and sent to President Obama legislation designed to address ongoing problems within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that reportedly led to the deaths of some former service members awaiting care at the agency’s medical facilities.

Both the House and Senate supported in overwhelming fashion a $16.3 billion measure reconciled in conference that offers $10 billion over three years to provide medical care for qualified veterans unable to get timely appointments or who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility by paying physicians outside of the VA healthcare system.

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 also includes $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and additional medical staff and $1.3 billion to open 27 additional clinics. It also includes language that makes it easier to fire administrators and other top personnel for poor performance.

Obama is expected to quickly sign the legislation, which received bipartisan support.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee who played a major role in creating the package, said it addresses “the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care. It strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and medical personnel it needs so we can permanently put an end to the long waiting lists.’’

“Funding for veterans’ needs must be considered a ‘cost of war’ and appropriated as emergency spending,’’ Sanders said. “Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who fight our battles.’’

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, characterized the scandal that led to the legislation as “a national disgrace” and promised the measure will “increase patient choice for veterans and introduce some much-needed accountability into the VA.”

McConnell added that “a dramatic change in culture at the VA is critical to correcting the department’s failures and to better serving our veterans.”

The VA faced heavy criticism after a report issued by the agency’s inspector general revealed that 40 patients, all former servicemen, died awaiting care at a Phoenix veterans’ facility. It was determined that employees there kept a secret list of patients who faced prolonged delays in receiving treatment. Investigators suggested those VA workers concealed the actual wait times in hopes of enhancing the perception of the facility’s performance.

Similar problems were uncovered at other VA medical facilities that serve almost 9 million veterans. Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned as a result. Earlier this week the Senate unanimously confirmed Robert McDonald, former CEO at Proctor & Gamble, as Shinseki’s replacement.

An audit released in June by the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that more than 57,000 veterans nationwide have been forced to wait 90 days or more for medical appointments at the agency’s facilities. About 64,000 more were included on the agency’s electronic waiting list for doctor appointments. The VA’s stated goal is to arrange appointments within two weeks or less.

The audit scanned more than 730 VA hospitals and clinics and determined that supervisors were encouraging clerks to falsify records in 13 percent of cases.

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Despite a lot of talk by those who know nothing about the VA except what they read in writings by people who know as little as they do, for the most part VA medical staff do an excellent job of providing health care to veterans. They are certainly handicapped by limited resources an mid- and upper- level non-medical staff managers who have more self-interest than interest in the veterans they nominally serve, but they do what they can. I speak from personal experience, being a disabled veteran and having friends and family members who have combat service-connected disabilities. I know that I have used the VA for health care, even though I have always had employer-provided health insurance, totally because the VA provided quicker, better, and more-caring health care than did pay-for-service providers and the private health insurance bureaucrats they served. Hopefully the elected leaders of our country will have the courage and credibility to fund the health care services promised to those who incurred physical and/or disabilities in service to OUR country.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, you went to the VA for medical treatment even though you also had employer-provided public sector health insurance? Are you also a combat veteran?

Remember BENGHAZI!
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Fire" a few tenured employees with secure pensions, throw some more payoff cash into the budget, and declare 'victory'....typical DC response. But, hey, "We the People" are the suckers who keep falling for the ruse by reelecting these crooks and criminals every 2/4/6 years. As Bryan Preston said (paraphrase) "No matter how bad you think the VA mess is, it is much, much, much worse..." The bovine scatology has been blowing at hurricane strength for over 40 years; hell, it took the VA 30 YEARS TO ADMIT AGENT ORANGE CAUSES CANCER. When the 60's hippies - commies - America haters took charge of career civil service jobs within the federal government, it was "screw the 'baby-killers' and let's all get cash bonuses for denying compensation claims and health care to those who have fought and bled for this country - time." Veterans (many) live in abject poverty because they cannot maintain gainful employment due to wounds/injuries, cannot get even adequate, much less effective/successful health care.....but the bureaucrats get their bonuses. What in the hell has happened to us as a nation; how did we become so small, shallow, petty and most of all too PUSILLANIMOUS to call a spade a spade because we are so afraid we may offend someone by calling attention to the truth? Until we find our lost courage as a society - all Americans - not a damn thing will'll only get worse.

Remember BENGHAZI!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
And so, in a very typical statist, governmental response, they seek to fix the problem by making the dysfunctional system even larger.

Bravo. Didn't see *that* one coming.

16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
They need to close down the VA and just pay for veterans' care in the general health-care system.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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