November 10, 2015

Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio Announce New, Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Staffing at VA Health Centers

Legislation includes “Docs-to-Doctors” provision to allow servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transition directly into the VA; would make it easier for veterans to access the health care they need

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio announced new, bipartisan legislation to improve health care at VA facilities. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would make common-sense changes in staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve veterans care at VA health care facilities.

The legislation was introduced today in the Senate by a bipartisan coalition of Senators and will be introduced by DeFazio in the House next week.

At many VA health centers around the country, veterans face wait times of weeks or even months for an appointment. These severe roadblocks to providing timely and quality health care to veterans stem in part from a shortfall of tens of thousands of medical staff. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would reduce bureaucratic obstacles to make it easier for the VA to boost staffing at VA health centers and reduce wait times.

“Our military medical professionals are some of the best-trained, most experienced folks around when it comes to providing care,” Wyden said. "This bill will help the VA tap that resource, cutting red tape, hiring the trained medical professionals it desperately needs, and reducing wait times for our veterans at home.”

“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. “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. It’s absurd that doctors can’t move from one VA hospital to another without significant red tape. It’s just common sense to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles like these and to create a ‘docs-to-doctors’ pipeline from the military into the VA system.”

“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. Our bill will cut bureaucratic red tape and instill some much-needed common sense into the VA’s policies.”

"The Douglas County Veterans Forum is pleased to endorse the ‘Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act,’” said John McDonald, President of the Douglas County Veterans Forum. “We want to thank  Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden and Congressman DeFazio for this common sense bill that will facilitate a seamless transition from military service into a VA Healthcare system that is experiencing a drought in providers.”

The legislation would make it easier for servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transfer directly into the VA system, make it easier to transfer or share medical staff and services across VA facilities, and allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Physicians Assistants to provide a wider range of health care to patients, helping expand care in rural areas.

“Docs-to-Doctors” Program to Help Servicemembers Leaving the Military Transition to the VA

To provide VA with a large pool of trained medical staff who are already serving their country, this program improves the ability of the VA to recruit veterans who served as health care providers while in the military by:

  • Requiring that VA receive a list of servicemembers who served in a health care capacity while in the military or as part of the Coast Guard and have filed for separation in the previous 12 months; and
  • Treating these veterans as applicants from within the VA to allow for a more expeditious hiring process

Uniform Credentialing Standards

Currently, VA doctors have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA doctors report that his can take from six weeks to three months. In a unified health care system like the VA, it needlessly limits the VA’s flexibility to have medical professionals provide services where they are most needed.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would require the VA Secretary to create uniform credentialing rules for medical professionals across the Veterans Health Administration.

Full Practice Authority for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and Physician Assistants

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses—nurses with post-graduate education in nursing—have advanced skills in either a specialist field or a generalist capacity, and are qualified for an advanced scope of practice. While many states allow them to practice across their full range of skills, giving health care systems better flexibility to meet patient needs, the VA has not yet granted APRNs this full practice authority.

The bill requires the Secretary to provide full practice authority to all APRNs and Physician Assistants in Veterans Health Administration, based on the scope of practice recommended by the appropriate professional organizations. 

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is supported by more than 40 veterans and health care organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and the American Nurses Association.