Bill will expand veterans’ health care in New Hampshire, permitting vets to seek care from non-VA providers Bill also includes important provisions to reform VA, prohibit bonuses for VA officials
(Washington, DC) – A major bipartisan bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and expand veterans’ access to health care passed the Senate today with key provisions put forward by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). With Shaheen’s provisions incorporated – including a fix to long-standing inequities in New Hampshire veterans’ access to health care and proposals from her Veterans Access to Care Accountability Act to reform the VA in light of the agency’s ongoing mismanagement scandal—the bipartisan bill will help address the problems recently identified in an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that have led to delayed care for veterans.
The bipartisan bill, crafted by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), specifically gives veterans the option to receive care from a non-VA provider if the VA cannot provide the requested appointment within VA wait-time goals or if a veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility. An additional provision Shaheen and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) worked to include would give veterans the option of seeking care from a non-VA provider if they reside in a state without a full-service medical facility, like New Hampshire, and live more than 20 miles from the nearest full-service VA hospital.
“Veterans in New Hampshire deserve the same access to care as every other veteran who has served this country,” Shaheen said. “This bipartisan bill will finally give New Hampshire veterans an opportunity to get the timely and accessible care they deserve.”
The legislation also incorporates language from Shaheen’s Veterans Access to Care Accountability Act designed to address the VA mismanagement scandal by strengthening VA accountability and precluding bonuses from being paid to VA officials involved in mismanagement. And finally, the bill incorporates provisions from bipartisan legislation Shaheen is co-sponsoring to boost accountability at the VA by giving the Secretary the authority to fire or demote senior level employees based on their performance.
“There are serious problems at the VA that are unacceptably hurting our veterans,” Shaheen said. “We have to act aggressively to fix the gross mismanagement and this bipartisan bill takes a comprehensive approach toward fixing the problems at the VA to ultimately provide our veterans with the timely and accessible care they deserve.”
Last week Shaheen met with officials at the VA facility in Manchester to discuss the ongoing backlog and efforts to implement needed reforms across the VA. Shaheen, who called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki following the release of the OIG report, has also requested a full briefing on the findings of rapid audit teams deployed across the VA enterprise, including at the Manchester and White River Junction VA Medical Centers that serve New Hampshire’s veterans.
Shaheen has worked extensively in urging the VA to expand access to health care for veterans living in the North Country, where they often travel more than 130 miles to access VA facilities in Littleton, Conway, Manchester, or Boston. Given the region's mountainous terrain and hazardous weather, travel time for basic appointments can exceed two and a half hours each way. Earlier this year, Shaheen announced the approval of two VA health care sites for Colebrook and Berlin in the North Country.