|MERCEDES, June 10 - U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa says he has called for a detailed audit of medical facilities for veterans in the Rio Grande Valley.
Hinojosa’s move follows a national audit by the VA on quality of care and wait times. The audit found fault at a lot of VA clinics around the country and called for further review of the department’s facilities in Harlingen and McAllen.
The Harlingen clinic has the nation's worst backlog for new patients seeking specialist care, the audit found. On average, new patients seeking specialist care at the Harlingen facility had to wait 145 days to be seen by a VA doctor. Harlingen also ranked second worst for new patients seeking primary care, at 85 days.
“I find the fact that our veterans in Deep South Texas have to wait for months to see a doctor reprehensible,” Hinojosa said. “I believe those responsible at the Veterans Administration who have caused pain and suffering to our veterans should be taken to task and be removed from their positions.”
As with other Valley congressmen, Hinojosa voted Tuesday for The Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014, which will place more stringent regulations on how the VA handles the concerns of veterans and its budget. It also gives veterans the options to seek care at non-VA facilities.
“We in Congress are working constantly to give the Veterans Administration the funds it needs to provide better service to our veterans. It seems that they would have us think that that is not enough. However, in my book there is NO reason that our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for us, should be treated in this manner,” said Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.
“I have also asked for a detailed audit for our veterans medical facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. For years I along with our veterans have asked to have a full-fledged veterans’ hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. I believe they have waited long enough. It is time the VA does the right thing for our RGV veterans. These long waiting periods for medical attention are an example of exactly why our veterans need and deserve better facilities and better services.”
Congressman Henry Cuellar also voted for The Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014.
“I have been concerned for some time about the allegations surrounding care at the VA and this report makes it even more apparent that reforms at the Department are necessary,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo. “That is why I previously supported a bill make it easier for the VA to hold the appropriate employees responsible for delays in treatment affecting veterans.”
Cuellar said the new legislation will allow veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility to seek care at a non-VA facility. He said it will also give local providers three options for reimbursement from the VA: the rate of reimbursement under VA, the rate of reimbursement under Medicare, or the rate of reimbursement under TRICARE. “Veterans deserve a healthcare system they can trust – not a bureaucracy that prevents them from getting the care they need,” Cuellar said.
Speaking on the floor of the House, Cuellar said:
“When one of our men and women go out and fight on a foreign battlefield they should not come back the bureaucracy of the VA and this is why this legislation is very, very, important. This legislation will be very, very, useful, in the sense that if somebody has to wait or somebody lives more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, then they should be able to go one of the local providers in their home area to get that assistance. I think this will save the veterans a lot of travel time.”
Cuellar told colleagues that he has concern about the speed at which the VA reimburses private providers of healthcare to veterans. “There has been a problem with the VA where they do not provide the reimbursement to those providers on a timely basis and we have got to make sure that we provide the oversight that if a private provider comes in, they are reimbursed and paid properly otherwise we will lose those providers,” Cuellar said on the floor of the House.
Here is a section-by-section analysis of “The Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014.”
Section 1 would provide a short title of, “The Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014.”
Section 2 would require VA, for two years after enactment, to: (1) provide a non-VA care authorization to any enrolled veteran who resides more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility, has waited longer than the wait-time goals for a medical appointment or has been notified by VA that an appointment is not available within the wait-time goals and who elects to receive care at a non-VA facility; (2) utilize existing contracts to the greatest extent possible; (3) ensure that the non-VA care authorization encompasses the complete episode of care but does not exceed sixty days; and, (4) submit a quarterly report to Congress on the care provided under this authority.
Section 3 would require VA, for two years after enactment, to reimburse non-VA providers at the greater of the following rates: the rate of reimbursement under VA, the rate of reimbursement under Medicare, or the rate of reimbursement under TRICARE.
Section 4 would require VA to: (1) enter into a contract with an independent entity or entities to conduct an independent assessment of the health care provided in VA medical facilities; (2) report the findings and recommendations of the assessment to Congress; and, (3) submit a report on the assessment, including an action plan and timeline for full implementation of the assessment’s recommendations, to Congress.
Section 5 would eliminate bonuses and performance awards for all VA employees for fiscal years (FYs) 2014 through 2016.
Section 6 would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to transmit to the relevant Committees an estimate of the authority’s budgetary effects, any transfer authority needed to utilize the savings and, if necessary, a request for any additional budgetary resources.