Merkley, colleagues cheer VA move to cut red tape – and wait times

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) welcomed the news Tuesday that the Veterans Health Administration is moving to voluntarily implement one of the key proposals from their bipartisan Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act.

The lawmakers said the step should help to ensure that veterans can get the care they need in a timely fashion at VA facilities.

Specifically, the new VA proposal would allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to provide health care services to the full extent of their practice authority.

The lawmakers said that will make it easier for the VA to find enough medical professionals to fill the need for health care services for veterans, particularly for primary care services and in rural areas.

“Our veterans have stood up for us, and we must stand up for them,” Merkley said. “Long wait times for health care at the VA put veterans’ health in jeopardy and are unacceptable. I’m pleased that the VA has taken this first step forward.

“I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to move forward on our other common-sense ideas to improve VA health care staffing and cut down on wait times for our veterans.”

“I’m pleased the VA recognizes the need to cut down on unnecessary red tape that is preventing our veterans from receiving adequate and timely care,” said Rounds. “By easing unnecessary restrictions placed on APRNs within the VA system, veterans in South Dakota and across the country will have increased access to health care and have the ability to receive that care closer to home. I thank my colleagues in the Senate who worked with me to fix this misguided policy and look forward to working with the VA to see it implemented.”

“Not long ago, the VA medical center in Hampton, Va., had one of the longest wait times in the nation for veterans attempting to access the care they have earned,” said Warner. “In my repeated visits to that hospital and other VA facilities in my state, I’ve heard from local VA leadership again and again about their staffing challenges.

“Allowing qualified APRNs to practice to the full extent of their medical authority is an important, commonsense step that will assist the Department of Veterans Affairs in meeting patient needs, especially in rural areas. In Congress, we must continue looking for bipartisan, cost-effective solutions to help ease hiring of qualified medical personnel at the VA so we can do better by all of our men and women who have worn the uniform.”

“Veterans across the nation continue to face unacceptable wait times to receive even the most basic health care services,” said Tillis. “I am pleased to see that the VA has taken a proactive step to address wait times and staffing issues by implementing our bipartisan proposal to allow highly-qualified Registered Nurses to play an expanded role in caring for our veterans.”

The VA published the policy change today as a proposed rule. There will be a 60-day comment period on the rulemaking, after which the rule can go into effect.