By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the conference report on the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014. The bipartisan reforms to the Veterans Administration (VA) were developed in response to numerous reports of mismanagement, inadequate care, and long backlogs for treatment in the VA health care system.
Congressman Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia voted in support of the legislation, which was approved by a vote of 420-5. Rep. Bachus said, “Our country has a responsibility and commitment to care for the veterans who have defended our freedom. After the many disturbing reports of systemic problems at the Veterans Administration, it was clear that reforms were needed to achieve the goals of providing quality health care and professional service at every VA medical facility. While all of the institutional and individual problems will not be solved overnight, this legislation – along with the new leadership at the VA – will better help us keep faith with the veterans who through their service have shown their faith in America.”
Congressman Bachus represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District.
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R) from Montrose said that the House-passed bill gives veterans access to private health care. Congressman voted in support of the legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by giving veterans access to non-VA medical care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or the wait time for an appointment at a VA facility is more than 30 days.
According to information provided by Rep. Byrne’s office the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act (H.R. 3230) provides $5 billion to hire new physicians and improve VA medical facilities. The bill also includes important accountability measures, including making it easier to fire or demote senior level VA officials and limits funds available for the VA to offer bonuses to employees.
Congressman Byrne has been critical of the culture of complacency at the VA and has also advocated for a program that allows veterans to seek medical care from private doctors and hospitals.
Rep. Byrne said: “The crisis at the VA opened our nation’s eyes to a systemic issue that needed to be addressed, and today the House took an important step toward improving care for our nation’s veterans. The federal government should be working for our nation’s veterans, not against them.” “In Southwest Alabama, this bill means that our veterans no longer will have to travel hours out of the way to receive medical attention from the VA hospitals in Biloxi or Montgomery. Instead, under most circumstances, our local veterans can now choose to visit a specialist or hospital of their choosing close to home. I cannot understate how much this freedom of choice will mean to our veterans.”
Rep. Byrne continued, “I applaud House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) for his hard work on this bill, and I know he faced serious challenges in his negotiations with the Senate. At the end of the day, this is a good bill which puts important accountability measures in place, in addition to giving veterans more health care options. However, this bill won’t make all the problems at the VA disappear. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House and new VA Secretary Robert McDonald to ensure that our nation’s veterans recieve the best care possible.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery said, “All this year I have been telling anyone who would listen why we need to expand Patient Centered Community Care (PC3) and other programs that allow veterans to access private care if they can’t get an appointment at a local VA facility. For this final bill to include such strong provisions and funding for PC3 and other non-VA care programs is a major victory for veterans.”
Rep. Roby has also advocated for increased accountability. There has been evidence that the Montgomery-based Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) has falsified records, been mismanaged, and then covered up those failings.
Rep. Roby said, “Absence of accountability at the VA has been the underlying issue for years. With this bill, Congress is granting the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to swiftly fire senior managers for poor performance or misconduct and we expect them to use it.”
On Tuesday the Senate confirmed new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. Rep. Roby said, “Secretary McDonald will come into his post with considerable resources and tools thanks to this VA reform bill. There’s no question fixing the VA is a monumental task. The culture of complacency that has existed for years will be difficult to change. It will be an uphill battle, but I hope today marks the beginning of that fight. This is about our veterans. This is about keeping our promise to those who have served fought and suffered for our country. It’s our responsibility in Congress to put the tools and resources in place to accomplish to give them the health care they deserve. But the VA care issue won’t end just because Congress passed a bill. We must remain vigilant and continue to expose instances of abuse and mismanagement that otherwise might be swept under the rug.”
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.