Durbin Applauds Passage of Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act

CHICAGO – The nation's veterans will have faster and easier access to health care under legislation designed to repair the overwhelmed Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which was approved across party lines in the Senate on Thursday night, begins to fix some of the problems identified by the Inspector General investigation of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities earlier this year. The $17 billion bipartisan bill includes many provisions to help reduce long VA appointment wait times, including emergency funding that allows veterans to get medical treatment at non-VA providers.

“With almost half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans filing for disability benefits when they leave the military, the VA system is overwhelmed. The reports of waitlist tampering at VA hospitals across the country are an indication of the challenges that lie ahead. We can all agree that the men and women who serve our country deserve better. This bill is a down payment on our promise to fix the system and get the VA back on the right track,” Durbin said. “Illinois is home to 750,000 veterans who deserve and are entitled to reliable and timely health care. We spent $1.7 trillion in the Iraq War alone. We can spend $17 billion to honor the promise we made to our servicemembers.”

The bill includes $10 billion in emergency funding that would allow any enrolled veteran who lives more than 40-miles from the nearest VA facility or would have to wait too long for an appointment to go to a private doctor. Another $5 billion in the bill would go toward allowing the Department to hire more doctors and medical staff. The measure also includes about $1.5 billion for the VA to lease space at 27 facilities across the U.S., including a new research lab at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago, which is currently in dire need of repairs.

Durbin also released a letter that he sent to newly confirmed VA Secretary Bob McDonald after the VA released results of an internal audit this week, calling on those responsible for misconduct to be held accountable, including being let go or demoted where necessary.

The audit showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. About 46,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, and an additional 7,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never obtained them. Additionally, the audit showed that 37 percent of Hines scheduling staff reported they received instruction from supervisors to misrepresent appointment dates, presumably to meet the VA’s stated 14-day waiting period goal.