By Frank Lewis
On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) became an original cosponsor of The Veterans Choice Act of 2014. According to Portman the bill will take measures to improve veterans’ healthcare including allowing veterans to receive care from a doctor or provider of their choice outside of Veterans Affairs (VA), directing the VA to report patient quality and outcome information, and by taking steps to change the culture in the VA.
During a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) hearing last year, Portman questioned then-VA Undersecretary for Health Robert A. Petzel about the use of private health care providers to deal with the issues many veterans face accessing the VA system.
“We’ve got to leverage the resources of our nation for these men and women, who have given so much to us. We have providers throughout our country who stand ready to support this population.
“Our veterans should be the first in line for the best care, and this legislation takes important steps toward helping our veterans receive the care they deserve,” Portman said. “At a hearing last year, Mr. Petzel assured me that the VA would increase the use of private providers to deal with access issues. Clearly, they have failed to do this adequately in the year since. There are still systemic problems throughout the VA, which is why we should increase healthcare choices, track quality improvement, and change the culture of the VA itself.”
Information released by Portman’s office says currently, at least 42 facilities are being investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (IG) for allegations regarding inappropriate scheduling policies. It has been reported that at least 40 patients died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, and the IG revealed in an interim report that veterans in Phoenix have been waiting an average of 115 days just to see a primary care doctor.
Portman said VA senior leadership officials claim to be unaware of the systemic problems despite being warned by Congress, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Medical Inspector, the Office of Special Counsel, and the IG. “This is not due to a lack of funding,” Portman said. “Since fiscal year 2009, funding for the VA has increased by roughly 60 percent, and VA health care spending per veteran has increased since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. VA was specifically exempted from sequestration and the medical care accounts receive advanced appropriations to ensure predictability and proper planning.”
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.