Bipartisan Coalition of Senators Works to Improve Staffing at VA Health Centers

Bipartisan Coalition of Senators Works to Improve Staffing at VA Health Centers

Legislation includes “Docs-to-Doctors” program to allow servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transition directly into the VA; would make it easier for veterans to access the health care they need

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), today introduced the Health Care Staffing Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation to make common-sense changes in staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve veterans’ care at VA health care facilities.

At many VA health centers around the country, veterans face wait times of weeks or even months for an appointment. These severe roadblocks to providing timely and quality health care to veterans stem in part from a shortfall of tens of thousands of medical staff. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would reduce bureaucratic obstacles to make it easier for the VA to boost staffing at VA health centers and reduce wait times.

“Our veterans have stood up for us, and we must stand up for them,” said Merkley. “Long wait times put our veterans’ health in jeopardy and are simply unacceptable. It’s common sense to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, and to create a ‘docs-to-doctors’ pipeline so that servicemembers who have served in health care roles in the military can easily transition their service into the VA system.”

“For too long, the VA has struggled to recruit and retain frontline health care providers, further exacerbating the issues already plaguing the VA system,” said Tillis. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act directly addresses this problem by reducing bureaucratic barriers and by creating a streamlined process for transitioning servicemembers to bring their invaluable training and experience to the VA, which will make it easier for VA facilities across the nation to provide our veterans with the high quality care they need and deserve.”

“Our veterans face too many obstacles in accessing the world-class care they deserve,” said Warner. “Long wait times at VA medical facilities undermine the quality of care our nation’s veterans should receive given the sacrifices they have made for this country. This bipartisan measure will help create a steady pipeline of qualified health care professionals who are instinctively familiar with the needs of our growing veteran population.”

“Our veterans deserve the highest quality of care,” said Brown. “This bill will remove red tape so we can put veterans’ needs first, increase the quality of care provided to those who served our country, and empower VA to hire enough staff to improve the overall veteran experience at different facilities.”

The legislation would make it easier for servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transfer directly into the VA system and make it easier to transfer or share medical staff and services across VA facilities. 

The Health Care Staffing Improvement Act has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “After years of gross negligence and outrageous mismanagement, the VA should explore every possible option to improve their policies,” said Rep. DeFazio. “Long wait times, practitioner shortages, and haphazard administrative standards are impacting the quality of care that our nation’s veterans are receiving. Our bill will cut bureaucratic red tape and instill some much-needed common sense into the VA’s policies.”

 

“Docs-to-Doctors” Program to Help Servicemembers Leaving the Military Transition to the VA

 

To provide VA with a large pool of trained medical staff who are already serving their country, this program improves the ability of the VA to recruit veterans who served as health care providers while in the military by:

  • Requiring that VA receive a list of servicemembers who served in a health care capacity while in the military or as part of the Coast Guard and have filed for separation in the previous 12 months; and 
  • Treating these veterans as applicants from within the VA to allow for a more expeditious hiring process.

 

Uniform Credentialing Standards

 

Currently, certain VA medical professionals have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA health care providers report that his can take from six weeks to three months, or even longer. In a unified health care system like the VA, it needlessly limits the VA’s flexibility to have medical professionals provide services where they are most needed. 

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would require the VA Secretary to create uniform credentialing rules for medical professionals across the Veterans Health Administration. 

 

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is supported by the Oregon Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and The American Legion.

 

“DAV has long advocated for Congress and federal departments to work with state and local governments, employers, trade unions, and licensure and credentialing entities, to establish a clear process so that military training meets civilian certification and licensure requirements and allows veterans to take their vocational certifications and training directly into the civilian sector once they leave military service,” said Garry J. Augustine, DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director. “If passed and signed into law, the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act will eliminate employment barriers for military healthcare workers, allowing them to continue serving their fellow citizens by utilizing their top-notch vocational training without delay. We applaud Sen. Merkley for reintroducing this important legislation.”

 

“Veterans from medical occupational fields should be able to count their military service and experience when transitioning to the civilian healthcare workforce,” said Brett Reistad, National Commander, The American Legion. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would streamline the process for separating veterans and help address the staffing shortage at VA medical facilities across the country. This bill, as currently written, is good for our veterans and good for America.”