Hoeven: Senate Reaches Agreement in Principle on Veterans Affairs Legislation

Lead Negotiators Have Framework for Deal, Measure Needs 60 Votes to Pass

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today welcomed an agreement in principle between Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) on a bill that would reform the Veterans Affairs (VA) Administration and make it easier for veterans to get health care services in their local communities. Hoeven is working to build bipartisan support for the compromise measure in the Senate.

The legislation is the product of several VA bills offered by Republicans and Democrats. Hoeven is a cosponsor of McCain’s Veterans Choice Act, which would give veterans more choice and flexibility while reforming the Veterans Health Care system with greater accountability and transparency. The Democratic version of the bill, the Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act, was offered by Sanders.

“We have a solemn obligation to work in a bipartisan way to make sure we provide quality health care in a timely fashion for the men and women who have sacrificed so much to serve our nation,” Hoeven said. “The compromise legislation Senators McCain and Sanders reached today gives our veterans a choice and allows them to access health care providers in their community. That means they won’t have to wait months for an appointment or spend hours on the road to get to a VA facility. We will continue to work to win support for this important legislation.”

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. At the same time, the VA has 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.

The compromise legislation retains the following features of the Veterans Choice Act cosponsored by Hoeven:

  • 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 measure 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.