On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed a VA reform bill into law that will allow tens of thousands of military veterans to receive long awaited care from private doctors almost immediately, according to Matthew Daly and Darlene Superville, Boost for vets’ health: Obama signs new law. Other changes will take awhile under the $16.3 billion law marking the government’s most comprehensive response to the Veterans Affairs scandals that led to the ousting of Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary. Veterans who waited at least a month for a medical appointment or live 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs hospital or clinic will now be able to see a private doctor at a cost to the government. VA officials said the law will also allow the expansion of VA staff by hiring thousands of doctors, nurses and mental health counselors to alleviate the long wait periods, however, this will take months to years to complete as the VA will also open 27 new clinics across the country taking two years. Obama signed the bill at Fort Belvoir, an army base in Virgina just outside Washington where service members, veterans groups and military leaders attended the ceremony with lawmakers from both parties. Obama, during the ceremony, said: “This will not and cannot be the end of our effort. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans.” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “Anybody who thinks this is going to fix the problem is not being honest about this” citing a host of issues the bill leaves unaddressed, from veterans’ suicides and homelessness to a stubborn backlog in disability claims. Daniel Dellinger, national commander for the America Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said: “But it is only one step and only a beginning.” Under the new law, employment rules will be revised to make it easier to fire senior VA executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly, according to the article. The former Proctor and Gamble CEO turned VA Secretary on July 30, McDonald, travels to Phoenix Friday to visit the VA hospital where the scandal began amid reports of secret waiting lists and patients dying before they could receive care. The VA reported in mid-July that 35,000 vets had a waiting period of 90 days for initial appoints, down from 57,000 mid-May, and last week announced its plan to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data. According to AOL’s report, Major provisions of veterans health care bill, congressional budget analyst put the cost of the bill at $16.3 billion over three years and estimates it will add $10 billion to federal deficits over the next 10 years. Here’s a summary of the legislation provided by AOL:
-Devotes $10 billion to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live far from them. Only veterans who enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away are eligible for outside care.
-Devotes $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical and mental health professionals.
-Authorizes $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA outpatient clinics and other medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
-Grants the VA secretary authority to fire immediately poor-performing senior executives. They would have seven days to appeal, with a final resolution 21 days later.
-Expands a scholarship program for children of veterans killed in the line of duty to include surviving spouses.
-Allows all returning veterans and eligible dependents to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
-Cuts funding for annual bonuses for VA employees to $360 million, $40 million less than last year.