WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced bipartisan legislation to help improve healthcare for veterans. The Veterans Access to Care Act would help improve veterans’ medical facilities by allowing facilities with a need for additional healthcare professionals to apply to be designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Once designated, these facilities have access to National Health Service Corps, which provides service-obligated scholarships and loan forgiveness to health professional students who pledge to practice in a HPSA for at least two years. The bill would also require the Departments of Health & Human Services and Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a process for veterans’ facilities to qualify as HPSAs.

“When our brave men and women in the military sign up to protect us, we make a promise to protect them – and that means providing them with the support they need when they return home,” Klobuchar said. “Our bill would ensure that we’re making good on that promise by giving veterans’ medical facilities the tools they need to recruit well-trained professionals who can deliver high-quality healthcare for our nation’s heroes, regardless of location.” 

“The VA waiting list scandal shed light on how long veterans have to wait for care,” Grassley said. “In too many cases, the wait is much too long. When the VA can’t find medical professionals, especially in specific specialties, like mental health, that results in longer waits for care. The VA ought to have every tool at its disposal to help recruit medical professionals wherever they’re needed. This bill will help the VA meet the tremendous need for timely veterans health care.”

Klobuchar has been a leader in the fight to improve healthcare delivery for our nation’s servicemembers and veterans. Last year, Klobuchar’s bipartisan legislation with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to establish a patient self-scheduling appointment system at VA Medical Facilities was signed into law. The Faster Care for Veterans Act directs the Secretary of the VA to commence a pilot program under which veterans could use the internet to schedule and confirm appointments for health care at VA medical facilities. Last November, legislation that she and Senator John Thune (R-SD) led to improve the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) was signed into law. The bipartisan No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act requires the VA to develop a quality assurance plan to identify performance metrics and objectives to improve the effectiveness of the VCL. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which Klobuchar cosponsored, was signed into law in 2015. The law helps expand access to mental health services for veterans by establishing a loan repayment program to help the VA recruit more psychiatric specialists, enhances resources for veterans transitioning into civilian life, and improves the VA’s ability to address traumatic brain injuries. 

Grassley has a long record of improving veterans services.  After pressing the VA, Grassley received a commitment from the agency to improve the Veterans Choice program, meant to streamline medical care.  On mental health services, he co-sponsored legislation enacted last fall to improve the responsiveness and performance of the Veterans Crisis Line.   He co-sponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act that became law.  The legislation builds on the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, enacted in 2007.  The Omvig Act, which Grassley co-sponsored as the lead Senate Republican, was named after an Iraq War veteran from Iowa who committed suicide in 2005.  It sought to improve mental health services for veterans and reduce the incidence of suicide.