Senator To Introduce Bill Addressing VA Wait Times
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday released a summary of a new bill that aims to address wait time issues at Department of Veterans Affairs health centers throughout the country, AP/ABC News reports.
The legislation comes after a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of the Inspector General confirmed allegations that patients at the Phoenix VA medical center and other VA centers waited longer than hospital officials claimed for appointments.
According to the AP/ABC News, the bill would:
- Allow more veterans to seek private care outside of the VA system if they cannot receive an appointment with VA physicians in an appropriate amount of time;
- Authorize emergency funds to be used to hire more VA health care staff;
- Provide scholarships to or forgive the college loans of nurses and physicians who go on to work at VA; and
- Give VA more authority to fire low-performing employees (Cappiello, AP/ABC News, 6/1).
In addition, the bill would require VA to start the "agile development" of administrative software that would better process patients and monitor wait times. It calls for the program to be completed by March 2016. It also would authorize VA to lease 27 new health care facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
Further, the measure would extend coverage to veterans with spinal cord, reproductive or urinary tract injuries and would improve care to sexual assault victims.
According to USA Today, Sanders did not include an estimate on how much the measure would cost, but the bill would require additional spending. The cost could spur resistance from some lawmakers, USA Today reports (Davis, USA Today, 6/1).
Sanders said he plans to introduce the bill in the Senate sometime this week (AP/ABC News, 6/1). According to USA Today, a hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday, and the Senate could quickly act on the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said (USA Today, 6/1).
Comments on VA Investigations
Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sanders commented on the findings of recent investigations into the delayed wait time claims. He said VA employees had "gamed" the system in various parts of the nation and said the problem "must be dealt with through criminal prosecution and bureaucratic reshuffling." In addition, Sanders said fixing VA's longer-term issues will require ensuring veterans have timely access to care.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who also appeared on the program, echoed Sanders' comments and added that the issue is "not just a scheduling problem," but a systemic issue that should have been investigated "some time ago."
Further, House Committee of Veterans' Affairs Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" said that it was very hard for him to believe that no one at the central VA office did not know about the "cooking of the books" that occurred to hide the long appointment wait times. He said the agency does not need more funding and that claims of physician shortages are misleading because physicians were not seeing enough patients (Trottman, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 6/1).
Issues Arise at San Diego VA Health System
In related news, a spokesperson at the San Diego VA health system said the clinic has made progress in recent years to improve compliance with department scheduling practices, U-T San Diego reports.
Cindy Butler, a spokesperson for the San Diego system, said that a recent department review showed the majority of new patients in the San Diego VA system were seen within 14 days, and all new patients were seen within 90 days.
However, she said the system is still working to reschedule appointment cancellations. Currently, 40% of primary care appointment slots in San Diego are unused, while 11% of specialty care appointments are unused. Butler said the figures represent efforts in the VA San Diego system to leave more slots open for walk-in appointments and to give doctors more time to follow up with patients by phone (Hoffmann, U-T San Diego, 5/30).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.