Obama Signs Bill To Reform VA, Improve Veterans’ Access to Care
On Thursday, President Obama signed a $16.3 billion bill (HR 3230) to overhaul Veterans Affairs and improve veterans' access to care following reports of long wait times at several VA health care facilities, The Hill reports (Matishak, The Hill, 8/7).
The new law includes about $12 billion in new emergency funding and $5 billion from spending cuts within the VA system. It allots $10 billion to allow veterans facing long wait times or distances to seek private care outside the VA health system and $5 billion for VA to hire additional providers.
Veterans will be able to seek care at private facilities if they are not able to obtain an appointment at a VA health center within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA center. VA still will coordinate much of the private care, including assisting with scheduling appointments and obtaining a copy of the health record from the medical visit.
In addition, the law:
- Gives the VA secretary more power to fire top-level employees based on their performance;
- Extends a VA pilot program to treat veterans with brain injuries in private rehabilitation facilities and a program to assist veterans in rural areas far from VA medical facilities in accessing care;
- Provides $1.5 billion in funding for VA to lease 27 new facilities;
- Allows VA to provide counseling and other services to veterans who experienced sexual trauma during their time of service; and
- Requires VA to use quality of care metrics rather than patient wait times as factors in employees' performance reviews.
It also requires VA to report to lawmakers on how the agency plans to upgrade its scheduling system. However, the law does not include funding to upgrade the system (California Healthline, 8/1).
Obama: Law Ensures Access to Care for Vets
As Obama signed the bill at the Fort Belvoir Army base, he said the measure will "help us ensure that veterans have access to the care that they've earned."
Despite marking a step in the right direction, the law is just the beginning of several efforts to improve VA practices, Obama said (Sparshott/Kesling, Wall Street Journal, 8/7). Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) agreed, noting that the law "opens up a huge door to move forward" (Zezima, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 8/7).
Obama commented on several aspects of the bill, adding that it will go a long way to improve care by expanding benefits and oversight. "If you engage in an unethical practice ... you should be fired. Period," he said. Meanwhile, whistleblowers "should be thanked," he added (Landler, New York Times, 8/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.