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Tackling Long VA Wait Times: Jaime Herrera Beutler Directive to Track Causes of VA Staff Turnover Passes U.S. House Committee

Military and Veterans Appropriations bill includes Jaime-authored provision requiring VA to determine, report and address cause of staff turnover within 60 days

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Washington, DC, April 22, 2015 | comments
Today, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Jaime Herrera Beutler’s legislative directive to address high VA staff turnover rates that are contributing to veterans being forced to wait 30-plus days for health care appointments.
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Today, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Jaime Herrera Beutler’s legislative directive to address high VA staff turnover rates that are contributing to veterans being forced to wait 30-plus days for health care appointments. Jaime’s provision requiring the VA to determine, report and address reasons for high staff turnover is included in the 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.

At least 7,700 veterans receiving care at the Vancouver Clinic and the Portland VA Medical Center must wait more than a month to see a VA doctor, according to a recent Associated Press report. High staff turnover in Portland and Vancouver VA facilities has been identified as a significant factor; the VA Portland Health Care System is authorized to have 81 primary care providers, but there are about 17 vacancies – or a vacancy rate higher than 20 percent.

Last year, Jaime supported a congressional effort that, in part, addresses the physician shortage issue with additional funding.  The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act included $5 billion to specifically address the health care provider shortages.  Despite this bill becoming law last year, the VA has continued to experience high staff turnover.  Since January, the VA Portland Health Care System has lost four health care providers and only managed to hire four new providers.  As a result, the average wait time for new patients actually increased almost 7 days during that time, from 27.3 days to 34 days.

Jaime pledged to take legislative action when the AP reported the lack of VA progress.

“The VA’s failure to serve Southwest Washington veterans in a timely manner is clearly more than just a funding issue.  I’m pleased the U.S. House is moving quickly on my directive to the VA to understand why health care providers are leaving, and fix the problem,” said Jaime. “We know the high turnover within the VA increases wait times for veterans and jeopardizes the quality and continuity of care they receive. I am going to be watching this report closely to ensure the VA is implementing real solutions to recruit and retain the individuals who can give veterans the care that they deserve.” 

Jaime’s directive instructs the VA to collect data on the reasons medical providers choose to leave the VA system, and to describe how VA plans to address and mitigate the major factors causing providers to depart. This report is due within 60 days of the bill’s enactment into law.  Additionally, the agency must also provide an update every six months.

Other Southwest Washington priorities included in the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill:

Veterans Affairs (VA) – The legislation includes $68.7 billion for veterans programs.  The bill provides an additional $970 million to address unanticipated patient access challenges, additional health care services including those for hepatitis C, support services for caregivers of veterans, and ending homelessness.

VA Medical Services –The bill funds VA medical services at $48.6 billion – providing for approximately 6.9 million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2016. Within this total, funding includes: 

·         $7.5 billion in mental health care services

·         $144 million in suicide prevention activities

·         $232 million for traumatic brain injury treatment 

·         $6.7 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; and 

·         $250 million in rural health initiatives. 

Disability Claims Processing Backlog – The bill provides $290 million for the paperless claims processing system, $141 million for digital scanning of health records, and $26 million for centralized mail.  The bill also includes funding to support 770 new staff to tackle claims appeals.

VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $233 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system. 

Military Family Housing –The bill provides $1.4 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing.  The funding will ensure quality housing is sustained for all 1,388,028 military families currently served by the program.

Military Medical Facilities – The bill includes $607 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities. This funding will allow for continued support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.

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Tags: Veterans