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Congress Advances Jaime Herrera Beutler’s Measures to Speed Up Care for Southwest Washington Veterans

President expected to sign package that includes Jaime’s VA accountability measures to tackle delayed veteran care; also includes emergency Zika funding

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Washington, DC, September 29, 2016 | comments
Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives approved Jaime Herrera Beutler’s measures to address the lengthy VA hiring process and staff vacancies that have delayed care for Southwest Washington veterans.
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Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives approved Jaime Herrera Beutler’s measures to address the lengthy VA hiring process and staff vacancies that have delayed care for Southwest Washington veterans. The measures were included in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations portion of the legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by the President in coming days.

Also part of the package approved last night was $1.1 billion in emergency funding for combating and preventing the Zika virus – resources Jaime has been working to secure since earlier this year.

“This effort that will soon be signed into law gets at the root problems in Portland and Vancouver-area VA facilities that are making veterans wait too long for care,” said Jaime.  “Funding is important, but it’s clear the problems plaguing the VA go beyond just more funding, whether it’s turnover of VA doctors and care providers, or the burdensome hiring processes to replace them.  This legislative effort I’ve been leading aims to uncover the causes of those problems so they can be fixed.  Our veterans deserve timely access to high quality care from the VA, and I’ll keep working for them until that happens.” 

In addition to Jaime’s reforms, the bill includes a total of $176.9 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $14.2 billion. The 9% increase provides additional funding to address management problems and health care shortages, and to increase the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of its services to veterans.

Herrera Beutler-authored veteran wait time accountability measures included in the bill:

Wait times due to staff turnover – Jaime’s legislative directive requires the VA to investigate the steps, and cost of those steps, in its hiring process and continues Jaime’s previous work to address long wait times at the Vancouver and Portland VA due to high staff turnover.

While the Vancouver VA clinic should have 16 primary care physicians, it recently only has 11 physicians on staff.  This staff shortage contributes to more than 10% of veterans being forced to wait 30-plus days for health care appointments, which is three times the national average.

“Choice Act” resource scrutiny– One of Jaime’s accountability measures will look at the amount of funding from The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act – a bill Jaime supported that was signed into law in 2014 – was allocated to each VA region to hire additional staff, the number of staff actually hired, and the number of employees who left VA in the same period, and the net gain/loss of healthcare providers.

Medical staff retention – Another one of Jaime’s accountability measures builds on her legislative provision signed into law last year that required the VA to collect data on the number of medical staff who have left the VA system including their main reasons for leaving, and a detailed plan of how the VA can address these issues. In response to last year’s provision, the VA has uncovered a multitude of reasons behind providers’ decision to leave the VA.  However, the VA only provided data at the national level.  To better address this range of issues, Jaime’s directive requires the VA to break down the data by region, facility and primary verses specialty care.  

VA care capacity for severely disabled veterans – It is unclear if VA has maintained capacity to care for severely disabled veterans.  Jaime included an accountability measure requiring the VA to report on its capacity to provide for the health care needs of severely disabled veterans, including veterans with spinal cord dysfunction, blindness, amputations, and mental illness. 

Vouchers for homeless veterans program –This accountability measure would have the VA report the specific numbers of vouchers it issues to house and provide services for both male and female homeless veterans in rural and urban areas.

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Tags: Veterans