On Wednesday, the House passed a bill to make sweeping improvements to health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)! First, the bill would streamline the VA’s many community health care programs into just one program. While the programs are being consolidated, it would provide continued funding for the Choice Program.
This funding is particularly important in light of Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie’s April announcement that the VA Choice Program will run out of funding in early to mid-June, potentially creating another access to care crisis. Passage of this bill will avert this crisis.
Second, the bill would create a non-partisan process for reviewing the VA’s assets to ensure veterans can access the care they have earned. Specifically, it would begin a process of reallocating money from underutilized facilities to facilities that are more heavily used, in order to better serve our veterans.
Lastly, the bill would expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Caregiver Program, which provides aid to family members of veterans who are providing full or part-time care to that disabled veteran. The bill would expand this program to caregivers of veterans who served before 9/11, while currently, the program is only available to caregivers of veterans who served after 9/11.
Congress has worked tirelessly with veterans’ service organizations and the VA to create this bill, and I’m so pleased with what it means for our veterans. It will help veterans access care in their communities, take a close look at the VA’s aging infrastructure so that it can be improved, and help support the heroic efforts of those family members who have, in some cases, left their careers to care for the veterans in their lives.
I look forward to the Senate taking up this piece of important legislation.
On Wednesday, I also had the opportunity to testify at a hearing held by the House Veterans Affairs Committee about changes the VA should make to better provide for veterans. I spoke about persistent understaffing at the Department and how my bill, H.R. 5521, the VA Hiring Enhancement Act, would take a step to remedy the situation.
Specifically, my bill would allow civilian physicians to be released from their private practice non-compete agreements so they can serve in the VA. It would also make the training requirements for VA physicians more rigorous, so that they are held to the same standards as most civilian doctors.
Also, my bill would direct the VA to begin recruiting doctors before they finish med school, similar to most private sector health care providers. Currently, private sector health care providers begin recruiting medical residents as they begin their final year of residency, and residents often end up with a solid job offer from the private sector before VA recruiters are even able to get their recruiting process started.
I am hopeful this bill will gain traction after the hearing in which I participated on Wednesday. Please follow me on Facebook or Twitter to find out when there are updates on this bill.