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Senate passes veterans healthcare improvement bill, looks for House to act

Sen Bernie Sanders (I,VT)
Sen Bernie Sanders (I,VT)
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) the U.S. Senate passed a veterans health care bill that President Obama can easily live with. Now if the House could get with the program, a lot of politicians will tone down a scandal that crosses both sides of the aisle. The bill is a bipartisan response to a growing scandal with the VA health care system. According to a June 12 Stars and Stripes article, the VA Inspector General, FBI and Department of Justice are investigating potential criminal charges where clinic management falsified scheduling reports.

The VA scheduling scandal has a criminal component because cheating on reports was most likely done to gain monetary incentive bonuses for getting vets to their appointments on time.

Senate Bill 2450 passed on a second vote after a group of only 19 Republicans opposed, but failed to block it. The final vote was 93 to 3. There is a good prognosis that a close representation of the bill will make it though the House.

One main feature of the bill is a provision that will allow vets to get private, local care. However, this applies only if the veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility.

Why the bill has to prohibit falsifying reports on veteran's wait times is anyone's guess. At minimum, that would be a major job performance failure. The FBI and other investigative agencies can easily treat the matter as a crime when monetary incentives are obtained through such fraudulent reporting.

A major change allows the VA Secretary to remove Senior Executive Service employees for performance. The inability to get rid of under performing executives has caused prolonged failures in many divisions of the VA, especially in claims and benefits processing.

The problem, however, is that the new VA secretary comes with a corporate background and boasts about a policy of firing the worst "ten percent" of employees. Getting rid of VA executives is nowhere newar a corporate or business matter. The VA carries out responsibilities like no other business or agency in the world.

The bill also funds continuing investigation into scheduling practices and processes.

There will be help with improving antiquated automated scheduling systems

Additional funds will help to relieve staffing shortages. The VA could hire more doctors and train clinic management personnel.

With the ability to do more outside contracting and give better access to VA mobile clinics, the wait-time issue would get even more relief.

Ultimately, however, the massive claims and benefits backlog is a major, but widely ignored problem for vets who seek health care. The VA medical care system gives priority to vets based on an assignment system for service connected medical issues, unless there is a special program involved.

Any so-called "reductions" in the VA claims backlog are like drops in the national unemployment rate. There is no accounting for thousands of vets who gave up on their claims or lost faith in the VA as a whole. As a result, when a veteran is not even "in the system," it is impossible to say whether that vet is getting access to any VA medical care, let alone on a timely basis.

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