VA scandal: Legislation could mean private physicians, community health centers will see more veterans

June 2, 2014

Independent physicians and community health centers may be seeing more veterans as lawmakers on Capitol Hill work to find solutions to the ongoing crisis at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

Independent physicians and community health centers may be seeing more veterans as lawmakers on Capitol Hill work to find solutions to the ongoing crisis at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, plans to introduce legislation this week to allow veterans affected by the VA’s waiting list scandal and the provider shortage to seek care with private physicians and community health centers. The bill also will give the VA the authority to lease new health facilities in several states and use emergency funding to hire more physicians and other providers.

"What is very clear to everybody right now is that in many parts of the country, the VA simply did not have the doctors and the staff to make sure the veterans got timely care,” Sanders said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on June 1.

The physician shortage, which the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts will reach more than 20,000 by 2020, has been linked to the VA crisis as a contributing factor to the long wait times for veterans seeking primary care appointments. According to the VA Office of the Inspector General’s report released May 28, 2014, the average wait time for an initial primary care appointment in Phoenix, the epicenter of the scandal, was 115 days. That crisis led on Friday to the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the VA’s embattled secretary.

Lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle are interested in finding solutions to the VA’s problems that involve allowing veteran patients better access to care, including outside of the traditional VA framework. President Barack Obama has already announced he would allow veterans to seek primary care at private hospitals. Senator John McCain has advocated, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, that VA reforms should be accompanied by giving veterans better access to care from private hospitals and providers.

Another bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that could affect VA physicians would block performance bonuses for physicians who are found to be providing low-quality care.