Lawmakers Finally Hammer Out a Plan to Fix the VA System

16 Apr 2014, Washington, DC, USA --- The United States Capital Building in Washington DC --- Image by ? James Leynse/Corbis
Photo: James Leynse/Corbis

Negotiators from both houses of Congress have finally hammered out an agreement that will address the many issues plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system. Vermont’s independent senator Bernie Sanders is scheduled to announce the agreement at noon on Monday, alongside Representative Jeff Miller from Florida.

The final text of the agreement, which is reportedly similar to a bill passed by the Senate last month, is not yet available, but it apparently includes hiring more doctors and other health-care professionals. Among the other provisions:

According to a draft summary of the measure provided by House aides, Congress would give eligible military veterans a “Veterans Choice Card” and allow them to seek health care outside the VA medical system from Medicare-eligible providers, other federally qualified health centers or facilities operated by the Defense Department or federal Indian Health Service centers.

Veterans eligible to seek care outside the system would need to be enrolled by Aug. 1, or enroll for VA care within five years of ending their military service in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the draft agreement. A veteran could leave the VA system if they’re unable to receive an appointment within 14 days — the current VA wait-time goal, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

The VA system was hit by a patient-care scandal this spring, as a result of reports that numerous veterans died while awaiting care in its facilities. The problems with the VA system are said to include “a shortage of doctors and nurses, unrealistic goals to see patients within 14 days, and perverse performance and bonus incentives for managers.” Head of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned in May

A report released by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma last month estimated that over 1,000 veterans may have died because of issues at VA facilities in the last decade. “Poor management is costing the department billions of dollars more and compromising veterans' access to medical care,” Coburn said.

Congress, meanwhile, is scheduled to adjourn for its annual month-long summer recess this Friday. No word on whether they’ll take action on this bill before then.