Congressman Jason Smith Votes to Expand Veterans’ Access to Healthcare
WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Jason Smith (R-MO) voted in support of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. The bipartisan legislation makes much needed reforms to the VA healthcare system. The legislation passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 420-5 and is now headed to the United States Senate where it is expected to receive broad bipartisan support.
“Our veterans deserve the best care possible. No veteran should be forced to wait months to see a doctor or have to drive hundreds of miles for care. Thanks to the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, servicemembers will see doctors faster and if they live more than 40 miles from a VA clinic they will have the option to see a private healthcare provider,” said Smith. “Many of the problems within the VA are a result of zero accountability. This legislation will provide real consequences for incompetent employees and will make it much easier to fire people who do not have veterans best interests in mind.”
Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 Background Information:
- Requires 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 resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, with certain exceptions.
- Require VA to provide a Veterans Choice Card to eligible veterans to facilitate care provided by non-VA providers.
- 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.
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.