WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) voted to approve the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, a bipartisan proposal he cosponsored to improve veterans' access to health care services and address serious problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
"This bipartisan proposal would enact meaningful change to improve services at VA medical facilities nationwide, and take a critical step forward in restoring confidence in the VA health care system," said Sen. Heinrich. "By giving the VA the resources it needs to decrease wait times, hire more medical staff, and allow veterans to receive quality care elsewhere if timely VA care isn't available, we can provide veterans with the quality health care they have earned and deserve."
Highlights of the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act include:
- The bill would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to remove or demote any individual from the Senior Executive Service if the Secretary determines the performance of the individual warrants such removal and to notify Congress within 30 days of removing or demoting an individual.
- The Senior Executive would be allowed an expedited review by the Merit Systems Protection Board. Under such expedited appeal, the Senior Executive would have seven days to appeal a removal or demotion, and the Merit Systems Protection Board would be required to adjudicate the appeal within 21 days.
- The Merit System Protection Board would be required to establish and implement a process to conduct expedited reviews and submit to Congress a report on their established process within 30 days of enactment of this Act. It would also provide authority for VA's Acting Secretary to remove senior executives notwithstanding the 120-day moratorium in current law.
- The bill would allow veterans to seek care from outside health care providers, including those participating in the Medicare program, or at Federally Qualified Health Centers, facilities funded by the Indian Health Service, or Department of Defense for a two-year period.
- The VA would be required to verify that all participating providers maintain the same or similar credentials and licenses as those required by VA health care providers.
- To be eligible for the program, a veteran must be enrolled in VA's patient enrollment system and have contacted VA seeking an initial appointment and is unable to receive an appointment within the Department's current wait-time goals or reside more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility.
Hiring more doctors
- The bill would make funds available in 2014 and 2015 to expeditiously hire additional health care professionals.
- It would require the VA Inspector General to annually identify the health provider occupations with the largest staffing shortages and allow the Department to utilize direct hire authority to fill these positions in an expedited manner and require VA to report biannually on staffing at each VA Medical Center.
- It would also give priority in the VA Health Professionals Educational Assistance Program to individuals pursuing a medical degree with the intent to specialize in primary care.
The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 93 to 3 and now returns to the House of Representatives. If passed without additional changes, the bill will then go to the President for signature and become law.
A copy of the proposal is available here.