Legislation would ensure flexibility for vets, accountability for VA officials

A bill introduced on Tuesday would take steps to increase transparency within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and provide veterans more flexibility to choose their own healthcare provider.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced the Veterans Choice Act in the wake of alleged inappropriate scheduling and record-keeping practices within the VA.

“It’s clear with the evidence we now have that veterans had a lack of access to needed care, even in the past few years when VA carried over money,” Burr said. “This is a cultural problem with deep roots in VA, and money will not solve cultural problems. In fact, it could prove to only reinforce that culture. The legislation we are introducing (on Tuesday) will address these problems head on by getting veterans the appointments they need from the doctor of their choice, providing the transparency needed to do an apples-to-apples comparison with non-VA hospitals, and start reforming the system and changing the culture to ensure no veteran ever again dies while waiting for the care they need.”

Forty-two VA medical facilities across the country are currently under investigation, while a recent VA Inspector General report found that delayed care and manipulated records were “systemic throughout” the VA.

“It is wrong to ask our soldiers to fight for freedom abroad only to deny it to them here at home,” Coburn said. “We should allow veterans to go to the doctor, and healthcare facility, of their choice rather than allowing politicians and bureaucrats to decide where they can receive healthcare. In America, every hospital should be a veterans’ hospital. Our bill makes that possible.”

The legislation would allow veterans to seek care at non-VA healthcare providers if an appointment cannot be scheduled within a pre-determined amount of time, or at a VA facility within 40 miles of the veteran.

“As I’ve long argued, we must provide for veterans without timely access to VA facilities the option of using high-quality healthcare providers near their homes, rather than rely on a system which is too often riddled with dysfunction,” McCain said. “This legislation increases veterans’ flexibility to get the care they’ve earned, while bringing much-needed accountability and transparency to create a VA worthy of the heroes it serves.”

The bill would also require the VA to publish information on appointment wait times, establish public databases of patient safety measures, and require the VA to report to the Department of Health and Human Services on quality and performance metrics.

The secretary of the VA would be given authority to demote and fire senior employees. The VA would also be directed to modify performance plans, review its procedures and implement policies that hold employees accountable.