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Tim Kaine introduces Senate bill to increase accountability at VA

congressU.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined 13 of his Senate colleagues today to introduce the Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014, legislation to correct underlying problems in access to medical care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“This legislation is an important step toward restoring the confidence of our veterans and the American public,” said Kaine. “By providing the VA with direct hire authority, ensuring veterans receive timely care, and sending patients to private community providers when VA medical services are unavailable, we can begin to fix the systemic issues that have plagued the VA.”

The Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014 would give the VA authority to immediately remove senior executives based on poor job performance while preventing wholesale political firings. It would provide veterans who can’t get timely appointments with Va doctors the option of going to community health centers, military hospitals or private doctors. It would authorize emergency funding to hire new doctors, nurses and other providers in order to address system-wide health care provider shortages and to take other steps necessary to ensure timely access to care.  To address the primary care doctor shortage for the long-term, the bill would authorize the National Health Service Corps to award scholarships to medical school students or to forgive college loans for doctors and nurses who go to work at the VA.

On Thursday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will consider the bill, which then could be put on a fast track for consideration by the full Senate. Virtually all of the provisions already have been approved by the Senate committee during previous legislative markup sessions.

Kaine introduced the bill with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Walsh (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014 would:

• Remove Poorly Performing Senior Executives: This legislation would provide the VA Secretary authority to immediately remove incompetent senior executives based on poor job performance while maintaining due process for  those employees. It would also provide authority for VA’s Acting Secretary to remove senior executives notwithstanding the 120-day moratorium in current law.

• Shorten Wait Times for Veterans: This bill would require the Secretary to prioritize contracts with Federally Qualified Health Centers, Community Health Centers, medical facilities receiving funding from the Indian Health Service, and the Department of Defense to provide hospital care, medical services, and other health care to veterans in order to shorten wait time veterans may be experiencing. The legislation would also standardize the process VA uses to send patients into private medical care when VA is unable to provide them the care they need in a timely manner.

•Provide Direct Hire Authority: This bill would provide VA with authority to hire new doctors, nurses and other providers in an expedited manner to address system-wide health care provider shortages.

• Upgrade The VA’s Scheduling Software Package: It is widely known that VA’s scheduling system is grossly antiquated and inadequate. This bill would require VA to commence agile development of an upgrade to its scheduling software package and complete full deployment of the upgrade by March 31, 2016. It also contains minimum requirements for the package related to usability, functionality, and a dashboard in order for better administrative monitoring of wait times and resourcing.

• Create A Presidential Commission on Access to VA Health Care: This bill would require the President to create a Commission of experts to look at VA health care access issues and recommend actions to bolster capacity. A report to the President would be required within 90 days of the Commission’s first meeting.

• Authorize Emergency Funding: This bill would authorize emergency funding to hire new doctors, nurses and other providers in order to address system-wide health care provider shortages and to take other steps necessary to ensure timely access to care.

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