Shaheen Joins Bipartisan Group of Senators in Introducing Legislation to Improve Staffing at VA Health Centers

September 10, 2018

(Washington, DC) – Last week, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Health Care Staffing Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation to make common-sense changes in staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve veterans’ care at VA health care facilities. U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the legislation, and Shaheen has joined as an original cosponsor.

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 policies that make the recruitment and retention of medical staff extremely difficult. 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. The legislation would also make it easier for servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transfer directly into the VA system and make it easier to transfer or share medical staff and services across VA facilities.

“Our veterans deserve the highest quality health care and support, and no red tape or bureaucratic obstacles should stand in their way,” said Shaheen. “This bipartisan legislation will increase staffing at VA health centers by providing an expanded pool of providers and removing bureaucratic credentialing systems, thereby improving care and reducing wait times for the men and women who served our country. It’s unacceptable that veterans have to wait for so long to receive medical support, and I will continue to work across the aisle to improve the quality of their health care.”

The Health Care Staffing Improvement Act has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

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

To provide the 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, certain VA medical professionals have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA health care providers report that this can take from six weeks to three months, or even longer. 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. It is supported by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), American Legion, and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

“DAV has long advocated for Congress and federal departments to work with state and local governments, employers, trade unions, and licensure and credentialing entities, to establish a clear process so that military training meets civilian certification and licensure requirements and allows veterans to take their vocational certifications and training directly into the civilian sector once they leave military service,” said Garry J. Augustine, DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director. “If passed and signed into law, the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act will eliminate employment barriers for military healthcare workers, allowing them to continue serving their fellow citizens by utilizing their top-notch vocational training without delay. We applaud Sen. Merkley for reintroducing this important legislation.”

“Veterans from medical occupational fields should be able to count their military service and experience when transitioning to the civilian health care workforce,” said Brett Reistad, National Commander, The American Legion. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would streamline the process for separating veterans and help address the staffing shortage at VA medical facilities across the country. This bill, as currently written, is good for our veterans and good for America.”