Sen. John McCain

U.S. Senator John McCain.

Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

An agreement made by House and Senate leaders on July 28 is set to change the way veterans receive healthcare from Veteran’s Affairs (VA) facilities.

The agreement, which came thanks to a Senate bill under Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a companion House bill under Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., arrives after reports and investigations of the mismanagement at the Phoenix VA.

Kirkpatrick and McCain are both members of the House-Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee. McCain’s version of the bill in the Senate passed overwhelmingly (93-3), and Kirkpatrick’s companion bill is being met with just as much support in the House.

In large part, the agreement is designed to expand veterans’ access to care, increase medical staff, and boost VA employee accountability.

Kirkpatrick said one of the major benefits is that veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility – or veterans facing lengthy waits to schedule appointments – will instead be allowed to seek care from private doctors who take Medicaid, community health centers, Indian Health Service and Department of Defense facilities.

“There has been a lot of work that has gone into this, and this creates a system that put veterans first,” said Kirkpatrick. “The key to this reform is to address veterans’ delays in getting treatment. That’s where it started from.”

The VA will be required to reimburse non-VA facilities that provide care to VA patients, Kirkpatrick added.

To ensure more speedy treatment times, the agreement places $5 billion aside to hire more physicians, and another $1.5 billion for the VA to lease an additional 27 medical facilities in 18 states as well as Puerto Rico.

In a speech to the House floor on Friday, Kirkpatrick said, “If we do not address the VA’s doctors, nurse, and medical support staff shortage now, we will face the same crisis again in two years.”

The agreement package totals $17 billion, which includes $10 billion in government subsidized funding for veterans who receive care from a non-VA facility.

McCain called the package a step in the right direction.

“This bill is a beginning – not an end – to the efforts that must be taken to address this crisis,” he said in a release. “Still, the bill includes some of the most significant changes to the VA in decades.”

Veterans had until Aug. 1 to enroll in the VA health care system if they were to qualify for federally funded care by private providers.

Congressional leaders had until the end of last week to approve the package.  

More specifics of the agreement

• Allows the immediate firing of high-level officials who are incompetent in their duties.

• Requires VA, in consultation with Indian Health Service, to conduct more outreach to IHS tribal health programs to ensure they are aware of the opportunity to negotiate a reimbursement agreement. 

• Requires VA, in collaboration with IHS, to better measure ways to implement and oversee the existing partnership efforts under the current VA-IHS Memorandum of Understanding.

• Ensures that private providers receive prompt payment and reimbursement from the VA for care provided to veterans.

• Ensures that all recently separated veterans taking advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

• Extends Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to surviving spouses of veterans who have died in the line of duty.

• Improve access to health care for military sexual assault survivors.

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