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VA bill allows more vets to seek care at private clinics


Physicians at private clinics may soon be seeing more veterans. Congress approved on Thursday a $16.3 billion overhaul to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Physicians at private clinics may soon be seeing more veterans. Congress approved on July 31 a $16.3 billion overhaul to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The bill, which now awaits President Barack Obama's signature, provides $10 billion in funding for veterans to receive care at private facilities, if they are unable to obtain an appointment within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

Under the bill, mobile vet centers will be required to improve their use of telemedicine, and the performance metrics used to evaluate clinics will be changed. Scheduling and wait-time metrics will no longer be used to determine whether employees receive pay performance awards.

The bill includes $5 billion to help fill the shortage of physicians and other medical staff, which has been a major factor in the VA’s long appointment wait times. In May, the New York Times reported that the VA had 400 vacancies for primary care physicians, and surveys show that few practicing physicians are interested in government employment.

The VA has been under intense scrutiny since a report released earlier this year found that veterans at a clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, may have died waiting to receive care. Investigations revealed that 56,000 veterans waited more than 90 days for an appointment and that employees at the VA had falsified documents to cover up the wait times.

The controversy ultimately led to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously confirmed former Procter and Gamble chief executive officer Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary.

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