Senators introduce new legislation to improve staffing at VA health centers

warnerToday, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues held a press conference in the U.S. Capitol to announce the introduction of the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation to make commonsense changes in staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve veterans care at VA health care facilities.

Sen. Warner was joined in announcing the bill by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

At many VA health centers around the country, veterans face wait times of weeks or even months for an appointment. These severe roadblocks to providing timely and quality health care to veterans stem in part from a shortfall of tens of thousands of medical staff. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would reduce bureaucratic obstacles to make it easier for the VA to boost staffing at VA health centers and reduce wait times.

“Not long ago, the VA medical center in Hampton had one of the longest wait times in the nation for veterans attempting to access the care they have earned,” said Sen. Warner, who made three visits to the Hampton VAMC in nine months in a successful partnership to reduce primary care wait times at the facility. “In my repeated visits to that hospital and other VA facilities in my state, I’ve heard from local VA leadership again and again about their staffing challenges. This bipartisan proposal provides a commonsense, cost-effective solution to help ease hiring of qualified medical personnel so we can do better by all of our men and women who have worn the uniform.”

The legislation would make it easier for servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transfer directly into the VA system, make it easier to transfer or share medical staff and services across VA facilities, and allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Physicians Assistants to provide a wider range of health care to patients, helping expand care in rural areas.

 

“Docs-to-Doctors” Program to Help Servicemembers Leaving the Military Transition to the VA

To provide VA with a large pool of trained medical staff who are already serving their country, this program improves the ability of the VA to recruit veterans who served as health care providers while in the military by:

  • Requiring that VA receive a list of servicemembers who served in a health care capacity while in the military or as part of the Coast Guard and have filed for separation in the previous 12 months; and
  • Treating these veterans as applicants from within the VA to allow for a more expeditious hiring process

 

Uniform Credentialing Standards

Currently, VA doctors have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA doctors report that his can take from six weeks to three months. In a unified health care system like the VA, it needlessly limits the VA’s flexibility to have medical professionals provide services where they are most needed.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would require the VA Secretary to create uniform credentialing rules for medical professionals across the Veterans Health Administration.

 

Full Practice Authority for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and Physician Assistants

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses—nurses with post-graduate education in nursing—have advanced skills in either a specialist field or a generalist capacity, and are qualified for an advanced scope of practice. While many states allow them to practice across their full range of skills, giving health care systems better flexibility to meet patient needs, the VA has not yet granted APRNs this full practice authority.

The bill requires the Secretary to provide full practice authority to all APRNs and Physician Assistants in Veterans Health Administration, based on the scope of practice recommended by the appropriate professional organizations.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is supported by more than 40 veterans and health care organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and the American Nurses Association.

A companion bill, led by Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR), will be introduced in the House next week.

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