Sen. Gardner Pushing Improvements to VA Medical Services
Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced today he has introduced the Veterans Improved Access and Care Act of 2017, legislation designed to increase access to care for our nation’s veterans and reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hiring process to make it easier to fill staffing shortages at the agency.
This legislation follows an explosive Inspector General report Gardner demanded that revealed secret wait lists at a number of Colorado VA facilities.
According to a Denver Post report, the average wait time to see a primary physician at a VA facility nationwide is 4.8 days, but the Eastern Colorado Healthcare System (ECHCS) has an average wait time of eleven days, Grand Junction’s average wait time is 18 days, and 13.5% of all appointments at the ECHCS had longer than a 30-day wait. Under current law, the CHOICE Act, a veteran can see a medical professional outside the VA system if they have to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility.
The Veterans Improved Access and Care Act expands on the success of the CHOICE Act by eliminating the 30 day, 40 mile eligibility rule, giving veterans full access to private and local medical care regardless of their situation or location.
“Our veterans, who have given so much to our country, should have access to the best possible care in a timely manner,” said Gardner. “Colorado veterans have been put on secret wait lists and denied access to care they have earned. This is unacceptable and it must change. My legislation will expand the CHOICE program and allow veterans to see the doctor they choose and not be hamstrung by the VA bureaucracy. It’s time we put partisan politics aside and deliver on our promise to our veterans.”
Many VA hospitals continue to experience long wait times and staffing shortages as a result of a lengthy hiring process, and a primary driver of the protracted hiring process is the onboarding process for licensed medical providers. According to a McKinsey and Company Assessment from September 2015, the VA hiring timeline spans 4-8 months while a typical private sector organization hires staff between 0.5 and 2 months. Furthermore, “candidates for many roles are often unwilling to wait roughly six months to be on boarded, especially when positions with other hospitals are readily available.”
Gardner’s legislation aims to address this problem by authorizing the VA to establish a pilot program to expedite the hiring of licensed medical professionals in locations where there are shortages of available specialists. The bill also requires the VA Secretary to submit a report detailing a strategy on how to reduce the length of the VA’s hiring process by half for licensed medical professionals.
Gardner added: “In order to reduce wait times and provide timely care to our veterans, we must address the root of the problem at many VA facilities in Colorado and across the country: staffing shortages. When it comes to the VA hiring medical professionals we cannot let government bureaucracy and red tape stand in the way. The VA Secretary needs to take meaningful action to reform the hiring process and make sure facilities are able to hire the medical professionals needed to serve our veterans.”
Gardner’s legislation will also turn into law the requirement for the VA to report all major disciplinary action taken against medical providers to be reported to a national database that was originally established by Congress.