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Donnelly: Legislation Takes Steps toward Improving Care for Veterans, Fixing VA

June 12, 2014

Senator Joe Donnelly Wednesday supported bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce wait times at VA health care facilities, while increasing accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Veterans’ Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 passed by a vote of 93-3. The legislation follows the VA Inspector General’s interim report on patient wait times and scheduling problems at the VA health center in Phoenix and the VA’s face-to-face audit of health care facilities nationwide.

Donnelly said, “Our veterans deserve timely access to the very best care we can provide. This bill strengthens our ability to hold VA officials accountable for their job performance. It also takes steps necessary to help cut wait times and ensure veterans get quick access to quality care whether from the VA or other providers in our communities.  While passage of this bill marks critical progress, there is a lot left to do to ensure veterans get the care they deserve.  I won’t stop working until we are fully delivering on the promises made to Hoosier heroes in return for their service.”

This bill would:

  • Authorize the VA to Hire More Doctors: The VA would be authorized to quickly hire doctors in areas with shortages.
  • Enable Veterans to Access Care Outside the VA: A two-year program would be established to allow veterans to get care from certain non-VA providers if they experience long wait times for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility.
  • Expand the VA Secretary’s Authority to Fire or Demote VA Agency Officials: It would be easier for the VA Secretary to immediately fire or demote senior VA officials based on poor job performance.
  • Establish New VA Facilities: The VA would be granted authority to immediately finalize leases on 26 major facilities, while a Commission would be established to improve medical facility construction and maintenance.
  • Require Independent Reviews of VA Health Care: The President would be required to create a Commission to look at VA health care access problems and recommend solutions. An independent, third-party would assess the process for scheduling appointments for veterans, and a separate task force would review VA’s scheduling software and make recommendations for improvements.

Donnelly is still waiting for a response from the VA following his June 5 letter with Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson requesting a face-to-face briefing from VA leadership to get an assessment of Indiana’s VA health facilities. This followed Donnelly and Coats’  joint letter to then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 20.