The House passed a last-minute bill Friday morning that will replenish the Veterans Choice Program with $2.1 billion in additional funds for the next six months. The additional Choice funds are crucial, as they buy lawmakers and the Veterans Affairs Department more time to redesign the program. But the legislation is also packed with new hiring flexibilities.
The House will vote this week on a bill that would replenish the Veterans Choice Fund with an additional $2 billion. But to offset the costs, VA would continue to collect housing loan fees and would trim pensions for some veterans living in nursing facilities that are covered under Medicaid.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has removed two top officials at New Hampshire’s only veterans hospital and has ordered a review of the facility starting Monday amid allegations of “dangerously substandard care”
The Veterans Affairs Department spends too much money on bricks and mortar and not enough on its own doctors and nurses, former VA Secretary Anthony Principi told Congress. Some lawmakers are once again calling for a full review of VA capital assets, which span encompass more than 6,000 owned buildings and 1,500 leased facilities and span more than 170 million square feet.
Congress wants the Veterans Affairs Department to expand acquisition internship program and start using the same requirements to report cost savings from procurement activities. Lawmakers see these pieces of legislation as easy bills, but VA has its objections.
The Veterans Affairs Department may get a big budget boost in fiscal 2018 under the president’s proposal. Most of the additional funding will go toward health care, both in and outside the department. But the budget proposal does suggest cuts, and lawmakers said they’re concerned by possible spending reductions to VA information technology and medical research.
Some members of Congress are encouraged by a new solution to overhaul the outdated and lengthy appeals process for veterans. Members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee introduced new legislation Tuesday that would create three paths for veterans to move more quickly through the appeals process. VA has roughly 470,000 claims pending as of April 1.
The Veterans Affairs Department soft-launched a new online tool that lets veterans search for VA medical facilities and their average wait times within a specific mile radius. VA said it’s a significant step in showing accountability and transparency efforts three years after wait time scandals in Phoenix shook up the agency’s leadership and organization.
Veterans Affairs Department employees are now answering 99.8 percent of veterans’ calls to the VA crisis hotline, and fewer than 1 percent of those calls are rolling over to backup centers. But the VA Inspector General and lawmakers still see some troubling challenges.
The Veterans Affairs Department, Congress and Government Accountability Office all agree: an outdated and inflexible hiring process and serious shortcomings with the department’s human resources functions are prohibiting the agency from quickly filling at least 45,000 open health care positions.
A new bill that would limit how much time doctors, nurses and other employees at the Veterans Affairs Department could spend on union business has support now from VA itself. The department said having its employees spend 100 percent of their hours on official time is “necessary, reasonable and in the public’s best interest.”
Official time has been a hot topic for House lawmakers this week. A new bill would limit official time for all employees at the Veterans Affairs Department and would set special limits for doctors and other workers involved in direct patient care.
Since Michael Missal took over as inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department about a year ago, his office has turned up some improvements, some deteriorations and the odd surprise.
If the 114th Congress was about dissecting the Veterans Affairs Department’s challenges, then the 115th Congress will act quickly to solve them, leadership on the House Veterans Affairs Committee said.
Some advocates of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s new employee accountability bill say it’s different enough from previous attempts to tackle this issue and should assuage past concerns. But others fear the legislation revives familiar worries.