VAM alert: December 2017

(Sen. Inhofe w/ military personnel)

Enhancing Veteran Care Act Change on the Horizon

On December 6th, the House unanimously passed S. 1266, The Enhancing Veteran Care Act a month after the bill was passed in the Senate and nearly a year after introduction by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and James Lankford (R-OK). The legislation will give the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more flexibility in working with third-parties, such as non-profits, to study, investigate and assess issues within the VA medical system.

According to the bill sponsor, Since learning of the shortfalls at VA centers in Oklahoma in 2015, my staff and I have been working tirelessly to ensure that our veterans have access to high-quality, effective healthcare. I am proud of the work we have done to improve our veterans benefits, but the work doesnt stop here. This legislation that Sen. Lankford and I are introducing today empowers Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) directors and medical center directors across the country with the ability to contract with qualified, accredited third party entities to investigate their health care facilities. The directors have the best perspective of what is going on at their facilities and unfortunately in the past VA Inspector General reports have not matched the reality on the ground. Its important we hold care providers accountable to the highest standards of excellence for our veterans and Im proud to introduce legislation that does just that. Senator Inhofe, May 25, 2017

In practical terms, this bill is meant to provide a tool for the 18 VISN directors or director of a VA medical center to improve the quality of care in their area of responsibility quickly and in an efficient manner. The idea is that the director will have a more boots on the ground understanding of the situation, and would be the most appropriate official to respond. Allowing a director to contract with a third party to complete the investigation would add to the rapid-response capability.

Currently, investigation of wrongdoing or substandard care practices within the VA is completed by the Inspector General (IG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), but these investigations take time to complete, despite the fact veterans may be in imminent danger due to substandard care practices.

It remains to be seen whether this bill will function as intended once signed it law, but there is hope that, coupled with the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act enacted earlier this year, improvements to the system will occur more frequently. Employees of the VA will have new abilities to identify problem areas without reprisals and make senior management aware so that change can be investigated and assessed at the director level.

This is not the first version of the Enhancing Veteran Care Act to make the rounds in D.C. On December 5th, 2016 the same bill was introduced in the House as H.R. 6435, and again in the new 115th Congress as H.R. 42 on January 3rd, 2017. The House did not take up the bill in this Congress until the Senate moved on their version. Other veteran bills have stalled despite bipartisan support, including H.R. 632 the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, H.R. 299 the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and H.R.1279 the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, all of which would impact myeloma patients and are supported by VAM. We hope that this renewed focus on veteran care will see new movement in these legislative initiatives.

If you would like to learn more about these other bills and how you can help support them, please contact Ray Wezik at [email protected].

Happy Holidays to all our VAM members. See you in 2018.

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