Rockefeller, Manchin tout Senate passage of VA bill
Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin joined a majority of Senators in passing the Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act to improve veterans’ access to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities on Thursday, July 31. The bill passed 91-3.
“The bill we passed today to strengthen the VA is a step in the right direction. It should not be the end of our efforts, particularly as more and more veterans enter the system each year upon returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Only by continuing to provide the VA with the resources it needs – while ensuring that they are used correctly – can we give our veterans the care they deserve.”
Rockefeller was one of 28 Congressional representatives named to the conference committee earlier this month that was charged with reconciling the separate veterans’ health care bills passed by the Senate and House of Representatives.
“Our nation asks a lot of our military personnel, and it is because of their bravery that all Americans enjoy the greatest liberties and freedoms in the world. As committed as our veterans are to protecting this country, we must uphold our commitment to them. We have a responsibility to our veterans to make sure they receive accessible, high-quality health care in a timely manner,” said Manchin.
Key provisions of this bill include:
—Providing $5 billion for the hiring of physicians and other medical staff and the improvement of the VA’s physical infrastructure to accommodate additional personnel.
—Creating a Veterans’ Choice Card that allows veterans to seek care from non-VA health care providers if they are unable to secure an appointment within 30 days or reside more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility. Veterans are eligible for this program if they are enrolled in the VA health care system as of August 1 or are newly discharged combat veterans.
—Allowing the Secretary to remove or transfer senior executives based on poor performance or misconduct, while maintaining individuals’ rights to an expedited appeal, and mandating the VA to establish disciplinary procedures for employees who knowingly falsify wait time data. The bill also requires the VA to ensure that scheduling and wait-time metrics are not used as factors in determining performance awards, thereby removing the incentives that led to widespread dishonesty regarding patient wait times at the VA.
—Extending the Health Professionals Educational Assistance Program to December 31, 2019 and increasing the maximum scholarship amount to $120,000.
—Increasing the number of graduate medical education residency slots by up to 1500 over a five-year period.
—Extending counseling and treatment for military sexual trauma and expanding eligibility for care and services at VA facilities to active duty servicemembers.
—Expanding scholarships to surviving spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty.
—Requiring in-state tuition at public institutions for G.I. Bill recipients.