Panel Report Urges Changes to Veterans’ Health Care
A congressionally mandated panel on Wednesday presented a report to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that included recommendations to reduce long wait times experienced by veterans seeking medical care, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
The Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission is a panel comprising 13 veterans that was established after reports surfaced earlier this year of poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Last week, the commission filed a report saying that the average 177 days veterans must wait for medical care is unacceptable. Commission Chair Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Scott said a pilot program that would allow veterans to receive benefits before their claims are verified could provide a solution if a new Department of Veterans Affairs secretary works closely with lawmakers to prevent unintended consequences. Under a pilot program, claims would be subject to audits at random to prove validity.
Committee Chair Bob Filner (D-Calif.) added that the program could provide accountability and fraud protection by requiring veterans to submit claims with the help of a "properly trained or certified" officer. Several panel members indicated that they would support such a program. Filner said, "We have to cut through the bureaucracy" and "stop this adversarial approach where we have to prove every little detail" (Yen, AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/11).
The commission's "priority recommendation" was that new criteria be established for diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder and that a "holistic approach" be developed for treating PTSD. It also recommended that disabled veterans be allowed to receive disability and retirement compensation concurrently. In addition, the commission recommended as an interim fix that disability compensation rates be increased by 25% for individuals with 100% disability and by a lesser amount for those with more moderate disabilities (Kreisher, CongressDaily, 10/10). Scott estimated that the increases would cost $3 billion annually.
Filner said he would combine the recommendations of the report with those presented in July by a commission chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala that focused on U.S. combat troops' transition from military to civilian life. However, the panel likely would not mark up the legislation until next year, according to Filner (Yoest, CQ HealthBeat, 10/10). The commission is the "first among several" panels to address the committee on the issue of delayed benefits to veterans, according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/11).