Rep. Frelinghuysen applauds passage of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014

Washington, D.C.  Congressman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) released the following statement following House passage of HR 3230, The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act Of 2014.  (A summary of the bill’s highlights, prepared by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, follows)

“The recent reports of excessive wait times, falsified records, and gross inefficiencies across the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system were deeply troubling and completely unacceptable.  Our country has a sacred obligation to ensure that those veterans who are eligible for health care through the VA receive the best possible medical care in a timely and efficient manner.

  • The bill passed by the House today, with my strong support, will help ensure that they do. 
  • Providing eligible veterans with the ability to go outside the VA system if they cannot be given an appointment within 30 days will make certain that no veteran has to endure an excessive wait for needed medical care. 
  • The management reforms this bill contains will give the VA greater authority to fire or demote supervisory employees for poor performance or misconduct.
  • The additional funding the bill provides will give the VA added resources to make long-term changes to improve its health care system to better serve our veterans.
  • Establishing a Congressional Commission on Care will allow us to make sure the improvements we expect are being carried out.

“The new secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert A. McDonald, must act swiftly and firmly to end the mismanagement that has plagued the Department and let down our veterans.  We have given him the tools.  Now he must do the job.”

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 Highlights

To improve access to and quality of care for veterans, the bill would:

•Require VA to offer an authorization to receive non-VA care to any veteran who is enrolled in the VA health care system as of August 1, 2014, or who is a newly discharged combat veteran if such veteran is unable to secure an appointment at a VA medical facility within 30 days (or a future published goal established by VA) or resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, with certain exceptions.

o   Require VA to provide a Veterans Choice Card to eligible veterans to facilitate care provided by non-VA providers.

o   Provide $10 billion for the newly-established “Veterans Choice Fund” to cover the costs of this increased access to non-VA care. Choice program authority would end when funds are exhausted or three years after enactment, whichever occurs first.

•Require an independent assessment of VA medical care and establish a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access to care throughout the VA health care system.

•Extend the ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) pilot program for two years.

•Extend for three years a pilot program to provide rehabilitation, quality of life, and community integration services to veterans with complex-mild to severe traumatic brain injury.

•Improve the delivery of care to veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma as well as care for Native Hawaiian and Native American veterans.

To expand VA’s internal capacity to provide timely care to veterans, the bill would:

•Provide $5 billion to VA to increase access to care through the hiring of physicians and other medical staff and by improving VA’s physical infrastructure.

•Authorize 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

To provide real accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers, the bill would:

•Authorize VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and Title 38 SES equivalent employees for poor performance or misconduct.

  • Provide an expedited and limited appeal process for employees disciplined under this authority. Appeals would go to a Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judge, who would have 21 days to decide on the appeal. If a decision is not reached within that 21-day period, then VA’s decision to remove or demote the executive is final.
  • Prohibit SES employees from receiving pay, bonuses and benefits during the appeal process.

•Reduce funding for bonuses available to VA employees by $40 million each year through FY 2024.

To improve education benefits for veterans and dependents, the bill would:

•Require public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive G.I. Bill education payments.

•Expand the Sgt. Fry Scholarship Program to provide full Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty after 9/11.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would result in net spending of roughly $10 billion from 2014 - 2024, making it less expensive than previous VA reform packages passed by the House and Senate.