VA legislation could increase staff, lower waits for care

The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and others across the nation, could have an easier time filling vacancies under a new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Tuesday. And that could mean shorter waits for veterans seeking care.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act was introduced by Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, will introduce the same legislation in the U.S. House next week.

The bipartisan legislation would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform primary care services at VA facilities across the nation.

It would also allow recruitment of military medical personnel to serve in VA hospitals after their retirement from active duty, creating what Merkley called a “docs to doctors pipeline from the military into the VA system.”

The legislation would also reduce red tape for transferring doctors and nurses from one VA to another.

A spokesman for the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center said the act would help alleviate shortages in medical personnel there. The VA has repeatedly cited those shortages as a primary cause of the waits veterans have before receiving medical care.

“The hiring process of qualified medical personnel has been an issue for all VA health care facilities, and Roseburg VA is no exception,” said spokesman Shawn Clark. “Complicated by our rural setting, Roseburg VA has often been critically short of the doctors and nurses needed to provide the best and timely care to our veterans.”

Douglas County Veterans Forum President John McDonald said the forum is pleased to endorse the bill.

“We want to thank Senator Merkley for this common sense bill that will facilitate a seamless transition from military service into a VA health care system that is experiencing a drought in providers,” McDonald said. “We also want to thank the other members of the Oregon congressional delegation who are working to advance this bill, including Senator Wyden and Representative DeFazio.”

The forum, a coalition of local veterans groups, has actively sought reform at the VA, including a reduction in wait times.

Merkley said veterans deserve more timely care.

“Our veterans have stepped up, taken the oath, and put on the uniform so that the rest of us can live in a country that is safer and more secure,” Merkley said in a written statement. “They have stood up for us, and we must stand up for them. Long wait times put our veterans’ health in jeopardy and are simply unacceptable.”

DeFazio said in a statement the bill will cut bureaucratic red tape and instill “some much-needed common sense into the VA’s policies.”

“After years of gross negligence and outrageous mismanagement, there is no reason the VA should not explore every possible option to improve their policies,” DeFazio said. “Long wait times, practitioner shortages and haphazard administrative standards are impacting the quality of care that our nation’s veterans are receiving.”