WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, on Wednesday voted to pass the conference report for H.R. 3230, the Veterans’ Access to Care Through , Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bipartisan agreement to improve accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and expand access to care for veterans.
It passed by a recorded vote of 420 to 5.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill later this week, which will send it to the President’s desk where it will be signed into law.
“This legislation is long overdue. The VA’s excessive wait times and reports of fraudulent appointment practices for medical care are a national disgrace, and this bill is Congress’ most substantive action yet to immediately solve this problem. There is no excuse in forcing veterans to wait months for needed treatments,” Congressman Garamendi said. “We’re addressing the problem in the short term by expanding options for veterans seeking private care if necessary and in the long term by hiring more health care providers. In addition to the hiring of additional medical staff at our existing facilities, it’s also important for Northern California that two new facilities will be built in Chico and Redding, helping reduce the burden on strained VA facilities throughout the region.”
On July 25, Congressman Garamendi joined 116 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid urging them to get a deal done for veterans before the August Recess period.
Congressman Garamendi has consistently voted for efforts to reduce the VA claims backlog and increase care capacity for veterans, claims backlog and increase care capacity for veterans, expressed outrage when the original Senate version of this VA reform legislation was filibustered by a minority of Senators.
Garamendi’s office has helped secure more than $3.5 million in owed VA claims this year alone for constituents.
The bill provides $10 billion to fund newly established program to immediately address the VA wait-time crisis by allowing veterans who have waited at least 30 days for an appointment with the VA or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to seek care from a non-VA source (such as a private physician, community health center, Department of Defense health care facility or Indian Health Center).
The bill allocates $5 billion to the VA to address systemic problems within the VA health care system by hiring more primary and specialty care physicians and other medical staff and includes incentives to attract more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to the VA.
A number of veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) have voiced support for this conference agreement including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
Key provisions of the Veterans’ Access to Care through, Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014
Expanding access to health care for veterans: The bulk of the funding in this agreement – $10 billion in emergency funding – is dedicated to expanding access to non-VA health care options for veterans who have been left waiting for more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. Eligible veterans must be enrolled in the VA health care system by August 1, 2014 or have served in active-duty within the last five years.
Addressing the shortage of health professionals in the VA: The bill provides $5 billion to the VA to hire more primary and specialty care physicians and other medical staff. The agreement also includes incentives to attract more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to the VA, and to increase medical education opportunities to attract doctors in the future.
Sexual assault: The bill expands VA authority to provide counseling, care, and other services to veterans and certain other non-veteran servicemembers who have experienced military sexual trauma during active or inactive duty training (including members of the National Guard and Reserves). The conference agreement also requires the VA and DOD to conduct an annual assessment focused on the transition and continuum of care from the DOD to the VA for those who have experiences military sexual trauma.
VA facilities: The conference report includes $1.5 billion for leases for 27 new VA clinics, bringing care closer to locations where veterans live and increasing access to specialty care services. Chico and Redding are home to two of these new community-based outpatient centers, helping to reduce burdens on facilities in or near the 3rd District.
Expanding access to education for veterans and their families: The bill lets veterans who are eligible for education benefits under the Post 9-11 New GI Bill qualify for in-state tuition. The bill also expands the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to include spouses of members of the Armed Services who die in the line of duty while serving in active duty.
Community-based housing for veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI): The bill extends a VA program that was about to expire that allows veterans struggling with TBI to live in community-based, rehabilitative housing.
Accountability: The conference agreement gives the VA Secretary the authority to immediately fire or demote senior executives based on poor job performance or misconduct. The bill also includes an expedited appeals process for terminated employees to prevent political firings and protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Additionally it significantly limits the VA from providing future employee bonuses.