Washington, D.C.—Senator Joe Donnelly Thursday supported bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce wait times at VA health care facilities, improve access to health care for veterans, and increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, a bipartisan House-Senate compromise, passed the Senate by a vote of 91-3. Its passage follows the Senate’s confirmation of VA Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act passed the House on Wednesday and now goes to the President to be signed into law.
Donnelly said, “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation should help ensure Hoosier veterans can receive timely access to the quality health care they deserve. Reforming the VA and changing the culture at VA facilities won’t happen overnight; however this bill will begin to address the problems revealed at too many VA health facilities. This legislation should help improve veterans’ access to care, provide VA facilities with more resources to meet the needs of our heroes, and increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act has many provisions that seek to reform the VA in the wake of recently identified misconduct and unacceptable wait times at numerous VA facilities. It will:
• Enable Veterans to Access Care Outside the VA: If veterans are unable to get a VA appointment within 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility, they will be able to access care through non-VA providers using a new Veterans Choice Card.
• Increase the Number of VA Health Providers: The VA will have special authority to quickly hire doctors and other medical staff in occupations facing the most critical shortages.
• Give VA the Authority to Fire or Demote Agency Officials: It will be easier for the VA to fire or demote senior VA officials based on poor job performance or misconduct.
• Institute Smarter Performance Metrics: With input from the Inspector General and independent reviews, the VA will be required to eliminate performance metrics that incentivize bad behavior, ensuring that job performance is measured by the quality of care veterans receive.
• Require Independent Reviews of VA Health Care: The President will be required to create a Commission on Access to Care to examine how best to structure the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources and deliver care to veterans, and the commission will be required to send recommendations to Congress. Further, an independent third party will separately assess the process for scheduling appointments for veterans, and a separate task force will review VA’s scheduling software and make recommendations for improvements.
• Improve Transparency Concerning VA Wait Times: The VA Secretary will be required to publish wait-time goals for scheduling an appointment at VA facilities for each medical center, and the VA will be required to publish online the current wait times for appointments for each primary and specialty care VA medical center.
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 is similar to The Veterans’ Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, which Donnelly helped the Senate overwhelmingly pass on June 11.