Alexander Votes for New Bipartisan Legislation Giving Veterans Choices, Cutting Wait Times and Travel for VA Medical Care

Says legislation allows Dept. of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote senior officials for poor job performance

Posted on June 11, 2014

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“This legislation is a big, fundamental change in how our country provides VA medical care: It is the first big step in giving veterans the same choices for their health care that our country has given them for higher education since the G.I. Bill was enacted in 1944.” – Lamar Alexander 

WASHINGTON, June 11 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today voted in favor of bipartisan legislation that would give veterans the choice to use private doctors or facilities as alternatives to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, if the veteran resides more than 40 miles from VA hospitals and clinics or if the VA cannot schedule an appointment for an eligible veteran within a reasonable period of time.

“This legislation is a big, fundamental change in how our country provides VA medical care: It is the first big step in giving veterans the same choices for their health care that our country has given them for higher education since the G.I. Bill was enacted in 1944,” Alexander said.

Alexander continued, “There has been a lack of accountability at the VA, and this bill will help hold the people in charge accountable for their failures. We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude that we cannot repay, but giving them more choices and requiring accountability at the top is a step in the right direction to fix the wrongs they have suffered.”

The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and passed the Senate by a vote of 93-3. This legislation would give veterans more choices for medical care to reduce wait times and travel and allow the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately fire or demote senior VA employees for poor job performance.

The legislation draws in part on two pieces of legislation Alexander has already cosponsored:

  • The Veterans Choice Act of 2014, led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), would allow veterans to choose a private doctor or facility for their federally provided medical care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or have waited more time to receive care than is deemed acceptable under the VA’s own standards. Veterans will be allowed to seek care from outside health care providers, including those participating in the Medicare program, at Federally Qualified Health Centers, or facilities funded by the Indian Health Service or Department of Defense for a two-year period.
  • The VA Management Accountability Act, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), would allow the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately fire or demote Senior Executive Service employees for poor job performance. Currently, the system requires 30 days’ notice for termination.

The bipartisan legislation also allows the VA to hire additional VA health care providers and provides funding for 26 major medical facility leases in 18 states, including funding for a new clinic in Chattanooga.

The bill will help address the findings that were included in the Access Audit conducted by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  The Access Audit found that meeting a 14-day wait-time performance target for new appointments was “simply not attainable” and identified more than 57,000 veterans across the country who are facing a wait of three months or more for care at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics. A total of 4 VA facilities in Tennessee were identified in the audit for further review.

In addition to this legislation, Alexander has also sent three letters with Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) requesting information on VA health facilities in Tennessee and around the nation. Those letters are available here, here, and here.

 

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