President Trump has approved legislation that adds $3.9 billion in continued funding for two important veterans’ programs.
Approval provides funding of $2.1 billion to avoid a disruption in the Veterans Choice program. In addition, another $1.8 billion will also be invested in Department of Veterans Affairs personnel and facilities, helping to fill 49,000 existing vacancies and strengthening the VA’s internal capacity by authorizing 28 major medical leases throughout the country.
This will allow VA to bring new facilities closer to where veterans live, and those facilities will bring increased convenience and access to VA health care. The legislation makes it easier to hire the most sought after medical specialists, as well as establishing innovative human resources programs to strengthen workforce management.
Sponsored by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), approval of Senate Bill 114, the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act provides funding for the Veterans Choice Program for an additional six months, breaching a funding shortfall that would have depleted funds by mid-August.
“Ensuring the House of Representatives quickly approved this legislation to sustain the Veterans Choice Program was critical for our veterans, and I was proud to be part of the bipartisan efforts on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to get this done,” said Senator Heller.
Passed in 2014, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act was seen as a bipartisan response to the health care access issues facing VA. The Choice Act provided new authorities, funding, and other tools to help support and reform VA.
Originally intended to operate for three years or until the Fund was exhausted, some of the highlights of the Act include:
- Allow recently discharged combat veterans with a Veterans Choice Card who are unable to schedule an appointment within 30 days of their preferred date or the clinically appropriate date, or on the basis of their place of residence, to elect to receive care from eligible non-VA health care entities or providers. This improves service to eligible veterans by connecting them to health care services closer to home. Eligibility for a pilot program was based on specific criteria, including driving distance from a VHA health care facility for primary care, acute hospital care, or tertiary care.
- Create and implement a system to process and pay claims for care delivered to Veterans by non-VA providers under the Program and other non-VA care authorities.
- Extend the Assisted Living Pilot Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury for 3 years, through October 6, 2017. This program assesses the effectiveness of providing assisted living services to eligible Veterans with traumatic brain injuries to “enhance the rehabilitation, quality of life, and community integration of such Veterans.”
- Improve access to telemedicine and other health care services through standardization and greater use of mobile vet centers and mobile medical centers.
- Create a Technology Task Force to review VA’s patient scheduling processes and supporting software.
- Develop a comprehensive data set that will be made accessible to the public. This data set will include applicable patient safety, quality of care, and outcome measures for VA health care.
- To ensure that veterans have increased access to information about their doctors, an “Our Doctors” web site will be updated and made more accessible on www.va.gov. Additionally, each Veteran undergoing a surgical procedure through VA will be provided with information on the credentials of the surgeon performing the procedure.
- Over a five-year period, the legislation directs the VA to increase its number of Graduate Medical Education residency staff by up to 1,500 positions. An emphasis will be placed on creating residency positions that improve veterans’ access to primary care, mental health, and other specialties.
- Expands the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to include the spouses of service members who died in the line of duty.
- Limits the amount of awards and bonuses paid to VA employees each year for fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2024.
- Provides new authority for VA to seek removal or transfer Senior Executives based on poor performance or misconduct, with an abbreviated process for an expedited appeal.