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House Committees Hold Hearings on the Future of VA, Veterans Access to Health Care

March 1, 2019

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PRESS CONTACTS
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst
Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (VA) held a Feb. 27 hearing titled “VA 2030: A Vision for the Future of VA.” Witnesses included VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge Richard Stone, MD.

In his opening remarks, Chair Mark Takano (D-Calif.) shared, “What I hope to get out of this hearing is to lay the groundwork for a long-term vision for the future of VA,” which includes his vision of establishing the VA as an easily navigable system that adapts easily to changing demographics of the nation’s veterans.

In his opening remarks, Secretary Wilkie noted his goals for veterans’ access to care, including providing “the kind of service that [veterans] were accustomed to receiving while they were in the military … and [putting] them on a level playing field with their fellow Americans.” The VA Feb. 22 published a proposed rule on access standards for the new community care program under the VA MISSION Act [see related story].

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, VA, and Related Agencies Feb. 28 held a hearing titled “Female Veterans Access to VA” where VA Women’s Health Services Chief Consultant Patricia Hayes, PhD, and National Mental Health Director of Family Services Susan McCutcheon, RN, EdD, testified.

In her opening remarks, Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) stated, “More resources need to be invested to increase women veterans’ access to care. Women should be able to walk into any VA facility and receive a basic standard of care. Having women doctors and gender-specific care programs for women at every single VA facility is the absolute least we can do, and we are not currently providing it.”

In her testimony, Hayes noted that “the number of women Veterans using VHA services has tripled since 2001, growing from 159,810 to 500,000 today. To address the growing number of women Veterans who are eligible for health care, VA is strategically enhancing services and access for women Veterans.” She added that community (non-VA) providers are utilized for care and treatment services not available through the VA or not provided at every VA medical center, such as gynecology, maternity care, mammography, and infertility treatments.

The issue of job vacancies in VA health care was raised Feb. 28 by Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Feb. 27 Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.). Both members cited the VA’s recent report of a 14,000 increase from 2017, to a total of 47,000 vacancies reported by Secretary Wilkie. During the House VA Committee hearing, Secretary Wilkie shared his concern about the vacancies, and noted that his focus is to “fill primary care, women’s health, and mental health” vacancies. Rep. Lamb further asked if bonus pay, moving assistance, and higher salary ranges are helping the VA to compete with the private sector, for which the Secretary thanked the committee for helping to break out of the traditional federal government compensation model which is “absolutely vital if we are going to continue to serve veterans at all these levels.”

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, VA, and Related Agencies will continue its hearings for FY 2020 March 6 with a hearing titled, “Electronic Health Record Modernization and Information Technology Oversight.”

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