WASHINGTON, D.C. - More veterans will have access to quality care and problem VA employees will be more easily terminated under legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday.
U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) supported the measure, and was particularly pleased that her priorities – enhancing access to local, non-VA providers and removing legal barriers to fire problem employees – were included in the final bill.
“All this year I have been telling anyone who would listen why we need to expand Patient Centered Community Care (PC3) and other programs that allow veterans to access private care if they can’t get an appointment at a local VA facility,” Rep. Roby said. “For this final bill to include such strong provisions and funding for PC3 and other non-VA care programs is a major victory for veterans."
Rep. Roby has also advocated for increased accountability, particularly as instances of mismanagement, negligence and cover-up have been exposed at the Montgomery-based Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.
“Absence of accountability at the VA has been the underlying issue for years. With this bill, Congress is granting the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to swiftly fire senior managers for poor performance or misconduct and we expect them to use it.”
With new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald now in place, new resources on the table, and new legal authorities at their disposal, now is time for action at the VA, Rep. Roby said.
“Secretary McDonald will come into his post with considerable resources and tools thanks to this VA reform bill. There’s no question fixing the VA is a monumental task. The culture of complacency that has existed for years will be difficult to change. It will be an uphill battle, but I hope today marks the beginning of that fight.
“This is about our veterans. This is about keeping our promise to those who have served fought and suffered for our country. It’s our responsibility in Congress to put the tools and resources in place to accomplish to give them the health care they deserve. But the VA care issue won’t end just because Congress passed a bill. We must remain vigilant and continue to expose instances of abuse and mismanagement that otherwise might be swept under the rug."
Among the bill’s provisions are:
Increasing & enhancing access to local doctors/providers
Rep. Roby has been a vocal proponent of the Patient Centered Community Care (PC3) program because of the benefits it offers to veterans in Central Alabama.
This bill requires the VA to authorize non-VA care - including PC3 - to any enrolled veteran who cannot secure an appointment within 30 days OR who lives more than 40 miles away from the VA facility.
Eligible veterans will be issued a “Veterans Choice Card” to facilitate care provided by non-VA providers.
$10 billion is appropriated for the newly-established “Veterans Choice Fund” to cover the costs of this increased access to non-VA care.
Hiring Doctors and Improving Access
CAVHCS has a major staff shortage, including doctors.
This bill provides $5 billion to the VA for the hiring of medical staff and for hospital improvements.
This bill requires the VA Inspector General to annually identify the five occupations of health care providers with the largest staffing shortages and authorizes the VA to utilize direct appointment authority to fill such openings in an expedited manner.
CAVHCS has major mismanagement problems, evidenced by the bevy of reports over the last several weeks detailing the problems.
This bill authorizes the VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and Title 38 SES-equivalent employees for poor performance or misconduct.
Any employee fired would have 21 days to appeal the decision but would not receive pay in the interim.
The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act passed by a vote of 420 to 5. The legislation now goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass quickly.
The complete text of the bill is available online here. fact sheet from the House Veterans Affairs Committee is available here.