Hoeven Cosponsoring Legislation to Address Problems at Veterans Administration

Measures Makes It Easier for Vets to Get Health Care Services in Local Communities, Provide More Transparency and Accountability at VA

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven is cosponsoring two key pieces of legislation to address problems at the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA). The first measure, led by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), is the Veterans Choice Act, which will give veterans more choice and flexibility while reforming the Veterans Health Care system with greater accountability and transparency. The legislation will help to address long wait times or long drives for veterans who need health care services by enabling them to get those services at non-VA facilities closer to home.

The Veterans Choice Act also incorporates the VA Management Accountability Act, which ensures that VA officials have the authority to evaluate employees based on performance and prevent abuses of the system for personal gain. The measure was passed 390-33 in the House of Representatives, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced it in the Senate.

“While our briefing in Fargo last week indicated the VA medical center is keeping up with scheduling North Dakota vets for appointments, veterans in western North Dakota are still faced with long, time-consuming trips to Fargo for health care services that could be provided closer to home,” Hoeven said. “The Veterans Choice Act will allow our veterans to access health care providers in their community when wait times are long or when access to a VA facility is difficult. The VA Management Accountability Act will ensure that VA senior officials have the authority to manage the system with the goal of delivering the very best care possible for our veterans.”

Currently, at least 42 facilities are being investigated by the VA Office of Inspector General (IG) for allegations regarding inappropriate scheduling policies. It has been reported that at least 40 patients died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, and the IG revealed in an interim report that veterans in Phoenix have been waiting an average of 115 days just to see a primary care doctor.

Since fiscal year 2009, funding for the VA has increased by 60 percent, and VA health care spending per veteran has increased since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At the same time, the VA has consistently carried over a share of its budget in recent years, including $450 million it expects to carry over in FY 2015. Further, Congress explicitly exempted the VA from sequestration, and the VA’s medical care accounts receive advanced appropriations to ensure predictability and proper planning.

Specifically, the Veterans Choice Act:

  • IMPROVES CHOICE: Allows veterans to choose Where They Receive Care: If the VA cannot schedule an appointment for a veteran within their wait time performance metrics or the veteran resides more than 40 miles from any VA medical center (VAMC) or Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), then the veteran can choose to receive care from the doctor or provider of their choice. All veterans enrolled for care with the VA and in priority groups one through seven will receive a Choice card to allow them to receive care from a non-VA provider.
  • IMPROVES ACCOUNTABILITY: Reforms Performance Measures for Senior Leadership at Medical Facilities: Prohibits VA from including how well VAMC and Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) Directors meet VA scheduling metrics in their performance plans to prevent manipulation of the data to secure bonuses and monetary awards. It also directs the VA to consider all relevant performance reviews of VAMC and VISN directors. The VA Management Accountability Act provides the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to demote or fire Senior Executive Service employees based on performance. It also removes scheduling and wait-time measures and goals as factors to determine bonuses for performance, and directs the VA to establish a policy outlining civil penalties, unpaid suspensions, or termination for employees who knowingly falsify data on wait times and quality measures.
  • IMPROVES TRANSPARENCY: Directs VA to report to the Department of Health and Human Services the same patient quality and outcome information as other non-VA hospitals. Directs VA to post on each VAMC website the current wait time for an appointment and to improve their “Our Providers” link to include where a provider completed their residency and whether the provider is in residency. Directs Veterans Health Administration to provide veterans with the credentials of a provider prior to surgery.

The Veterans Choice Act is supported by a number of veterans service organizations, including the American Legion, Amvets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (IAVA) and Concerned Veterans for America.