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Monday, August 4, 2014

Busy Week in Congress for Veterans Health Care


On Tuesday, July 29, 2014, the Senate confirmed Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Sloan Gibson, who had been Acting Secretary, will serve as the Deputy Secretary. 
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 has passed both chambers of Congress and is on the President’s desk waiting to be signed into law.  While they didn’t meet the hoped-for deadlines we mentioned in our news article from June 16, 2014, Congress still acted with uncharacteristic speed in passing this legislation to help our disabled American veterans.  

So, now that this is law (I’d be surprised if the President doesn’t sign it…), the high points of what’s going to happen include (1) funding will be increased to hire more primary and specialty care providers, as well as additional clinical and support staff, and (2) emergency funds will be authorized for leasing new VA facilities, both of which should make it easier for veterans to receive care in a timely manner, and hopefully not travel as far.

 Additionally, the bill will provide expanded access to care through the Veterans Choice Card, which will allow veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to seek care at a private medical facility, a DoD facility, a community health center, or an Indian Health Center.   

The bill will not only improve the delivery of care and treatment for Military Sexual Trauma for veterans, but also authorizes the VA to provide this care for active duty military as well as National Guard and Reserves on active duty.

The cost of all this is nearly $17 billion: $10 billion to cover the costs of veterans’ receiving health care outside the VA system, $5 billion to increase staffing and the ability to provide care in VA facilities, and $2 billion to cover additional leases and other programs. These costs will be offset by an estimated $5 billion in savings from other VA programs, bringing the total down to about $12 billion.

While this is a fairly hefty price tag, it is far less than originally estimated, and will help to ensure that our veterans receive the health care they deserve.  As Senator Bernie Sanders, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, said:  “Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war.  So is taking care of the men and women who use those weapons and fight our battles.”


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