Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today announced she has cosponsored two pieces of legislation to improve access to quality health care services for our nation’s veterans and boost accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Veterans Choice Act of 2014 would give veterans facing unacceptably long wait times and limited care options more flexibility when choosing medical care and promote greater transparency within the agency. The VA Management Accountability Act of 2014 would provide the Secretary of the VA the authority to fire employees who fail to perform their duties. Fischer issued the following statement:

“Secretary Shinseki’s resignation last week was an important step toward achieving reform at the VA, but it was only a first step. Congress must now step up and offer guidance to fix the bureaucratic failures at the VA and ensure our nation’s veterans receive the medical treatment they have earned and deserve. While investigations into the systemic problems at the VA continue, the Veterans Choice Act of 2014 would allow our veterans access to the high quality, efficiently delivered care they have already waited far too long to receive. It’s also time for the VA to clean house, which is why I am supporting legislation to make it easier to fire those responsible.”

The Veterans Choice Act of 2014 was introduced by Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and John McCain, (R-Ariz.). The legislation provides more flexibility for veterans awaiting medical care, while keeping the VA health system intact. It would allow veterans to exercise their choice to receive care from the doctor or medical provider of their choice if the VA cannot schedule an appointment for a veteran within a reasonable wait time or the veteran resides more than 40 miles from any VA medical center (VAMC) or Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). All veterans enrolled for care at the VA will receive a “choice card” to allow them to receive care from a non-VA provider. The bill includes reporting requirements to the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure parity in the quality of care between VA and non-VA services.

The Veterans Choice Act would enhance transparency by requiring the VA to post on each VAMC website the current wait time for an appointment and to improve their “Our Providers” link to include where a provider completed their residency and whether the provider is in residency. It requires VHA to provide veterans with the credentials of a provider prior to surgery and directs VA to establish disciplinary procedures should an employee knowingly falsify data pertaining to wait times and quality measures.

Finally, the legislation would also reform the VA’s bureaucratic culture. Specifically, it ends the connection between scheduling practices and bonuses – one of the roots of the current problem. The bill also directs VA to consider a review from top to bottom of its practices and procedures by outside advisory boards and experts to make the agency more efficient.

Full text of the Veterans Choice Act is available HERE.

The VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), boosts accountability among senior VA officials. Currently, significant amounts of red tape can prolong the process for disciplining and firing these employees for failure to perform job duties. This legislation explicitly provides the Secretary of the VA the authority to remove any individual from a Senior Executive Service (SES) position based on performance.

Full text of the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014 is available HERE.

Note: The Veterans Choice Act also includes the House-passed version of the VA Management Accountability Act, H.R. 4031/S.2013.

On May 20, Senator Fischer also introduced legislation with Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to prohibit the payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) through Fiscal Year 2015. More information about Fischer and Burr’s bill is available HERE.