Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released details of a bill to introduce into the Senate this week that will address problems in Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals around the country, according to the Associated Press.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate VA Committee, said the bill will include several new provisions, including allowing veterans facing long delays to seek care outside the VA at a private office, military base or community health center, the AP reported. It also allocates emergency funding to hire new doctors and nurses, and provides scholarships and college loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses who go to work in the VA system. The bill would also give the VA authority to fire low-performing executives.
The proposed reforms come amid allegations about secret waitlists and delays in care that led to patient deaths. A preliminary report verified that 1,700 veterans had to wait months for an appointment at the Phoenix VA medical facility, FierceHealthcare reported. Two days after the report, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned, leaving VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson as acting secretary.
A nationwide and system-wide physician shortage, a large influx of patients from the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2008 and a "systematic" problem with wait times contributed to the secret lists and cover up, according to the Washington Post.
Many veterans across the country praised the quality of care once they saw VA doctors, but almost all of them complained about wait times and delayed care, the New York Times reported. "It's frustrating and infuriating that there are so many dedicated doctors who work for the VA but it seems impossible to get to them," Marc Schenker, an Air Force veteran who served with the Tactical Air Command during Vietnam, told the Times. Schenker scheduled surgery to remove a hernia at a private hospital after waiting for months to get the procedure scheduled with the VA. "They're serving too many people."
Legislators and experts said the department will have to undergo a systematic change if it wants to overcome the scandal, offer timely care and restore confidence in the system, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. More staffing and a transparent environment will be key to improving the VA system.