WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is an original co-sponsor of legislation introduced today to give veterans more choice and flexibility in health care and increase accountability and transparency at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“No veteran should have to wait for weeks and months for care,” Grassley said. “This legislation would give veterans more options for seeing a doctor if the local VA facility is unable to help them.   Giving them more choices is a good remedy.  It’s a principle that works with any kind of health care, whether it’s the VA, Medicare or private health insurance.”

The legislation also includes provisions Grassley supports to make it easier to fire senior VA employees over poor performance.

The Veterans Choice Act addresses problems identified at the VA, including systemic scheduling problems and chronically long average wait times for veterans seeking both primary care and specialty treatment.  

The Veterans Choice Act:

Provides veterans’ flexibility and choice in medical providers:
--All veterans enrolled for care at VA will receive a Choice Card to allow them to receive care from a non-VA provider in cases where VA care is not readily available.

--If the VA cannot schedule an appointment for a veteran within its wait time performance metrics or the veteran resides more than 40 miles from any VA medical center (VAMC) or Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), then the veteran can exercise his or her choice to receive care from the doctor or provider of their choice.

--Requires VA to abide by the Department of Treasury’s Prompt Pay rule; to contract using Medicare prices; and any co-pay a veteran would pay goes to the VA.

--Authorized for two years following VA’s implementation of the program.

Increases transparency in VA operations:
--Directs VA to publish on each VA medical center (VAMC) website the current wait time for an appointment, current wait-time goals, and to improve their “Our Providers” link to include where a provider completed their residency and whether the provider is in residency.

--Directs VA to establish a publicly-available database of patient safety, quality of care, and outcome measures.

  --Directs VA to report to the Department of Health and Human Services the same patient quality and outcome information as other non-VA hospitals.

--Directs Veterans Health Administration to provide veterans with the credentials of a provider prior to surgery.

Tightens accountability from VA operations:
--Provides the VA Secretary the authority to demote or fire Senior Executive Service employees based on performance. (Includes the VA Management Accountability Act H.R. 4031/S. 2013, passed by 390-33 in the House of Representatives)

--Removes scheduling and wait time metrics/goals as factors to determine performance monetary awards or bonuses.

--Directs VA to establish policy outlining penalties and procedures for employees who knowingly falsify data on wait times and quality measures, including civil penalties, unpaid suspensions, or termination.

--Directs VA to modify performance plans of the directors of VA medical centers (VAMC) and Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) to ensure they are based on overall quality of care that veterans receive.

--Directs VA to consider reviews from the Joint Commission; the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities; IG Combined Assessment Program reviews, CBOC reviews, and Healthcare Inspections; and the number and outcomes of administrative investigation boards, root cause analysis, and peer reviews in assessing the performance of VAMC and VISN directors.

Full text of the legislation is available here and a section-by-section summary is here.

The Veterans Choice Act is supported by American Legion, AMVETS, and Concerned Veterans for America. 

In addition to co-sponsoring separate legislation that would make it easier to fire senior employees at the department for poor performance, Grassley also has urged the Veterans Affairs secretary not to allow employees to be assigned to long periods of paid leave as a result of the scandal that, in effect, result in extended paid vacations.  When the allegations were first reported about the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, he called upon the inspector general to conduct a thorough nationwide review of the Veterans Affairs health care network.