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Proposed bill to boost veterans' healthcare options

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During a Wednesday, June 4, telephone conference with journalists throughout the State of Texas, Senator John Cornyn explained the proposed Veterans Choice Act - a bill he helped introduce.
The bill, which has the support of American Legion, Am Vets, Concerned Veterans for America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was drafted in response to continued reports of negligence and deception throughout the Veterans Affairs Health Administration.
In addition to Cornyn, other proponents of the bill include Republican Senators Tom Coburn, MD, of Oklahoma; Richard Burr, North Carolina; and John McCain and Jeff Flake, Arizona. If enacted, the Veterans Choice Act would increase veterans' choices by giving them an opportunity to select their medical providers. The legislation would offer veterans access to non-VA hospitals and the ability to supplement VA care with providers in veterans' hometowns.
"This bill would give veterans the option of seeking medical care closer to their homes should they choose, allowing them to receive healthcare in a more timely and appropriate manner," Cornyn explained.
If a VA facility cannot schedule an appointment for a veteran within an acceptable wait time or the veteran resides more than 40 miles from an VA medical center or a community-based outpatient clinic, the veteran would be authorized to receive care from a doctor or provider of their choice. To that end, all veterans currently enrolled for care a VA would receive a Choice care, allowing them to receive care from a non-VA provider.
Cornyn noted that the medical care of thousands of veterans now essentially remains on hold as investigations into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare crisis continues.
Currently, approximately 69 facilities are under investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General (IG) for allegations about inappropriate scheduling policies.
Anecdotal reports have circulated that at least 40 patients died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA Healthcare System. Additionally, in an interim report, the IG revealed that veterans in Phoenix have waited an average of 115 days just to see a primary care physician. More disturbing, VA senior leadership has claimed to be unaware of the systemic problems inherent in the system - despite clarion calls by Congress, the Government Accountability Office, Office of Medical Inspector, Office of Special Counsel and the IG.
Mincing no words about the growing scandal, Cornyn said, "As we explore how best to reform the broken VA system, we need to address the immediate concern of providing care to the thousands of veterans who have been left in limbo by VA bureaucrats concerned foremost with their own financial gain.
"The Veterans Choice Act would ensure our veterans have increased options and greater flexibility to ensure their health needs are being met in a timely manner. This bill will also bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the VA as we look to make lasting reforms."
According to Cornyn, the Veterans Choice Act would provide immediate relief to veterans by giving them the ability to seek care nearer to their homes - and with providers they trust. "The bill provides veterans with more choice and flexibility, while bringing much-needed accountability and transparency to VA operations," he added.
More importantly, the Veterans Choice Act included the VA Management Accountability Act - HR 4031-S. 2013, which was recently passed by a vote of 390 to 33 in the US House of Representatives. This would give the Secretary of the Veterans Administration the authority to demote or terminate senior executive service employees based on performance.
Additional information can be found at http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=214b1ac9-fcec-4ac8-b5c5-4fe982c200e9 and http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=7d08b0ff-be6b-4288-a2f2-b293b9f86ca3.