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Legislative Update

Warner joins coalition working to improve staffing at VA Health Centers

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WASHINGTON— U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), along with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), introduced the Health Care Staffing Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation to make common-sense changes in staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve veterans’ care at VA health care facilities.

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 veterans face too many obstacles in accessing the world-class care they deserve,” said Sen. Warner. “Long wait times at VA medical facilities prevent our nation’s veterans from getting the care they should receive given the sacrifices they have made for this country. This bipartisan measure will help create a steady pipeline of qualified health care professionals who are instinctively familiar with the needs of our growing veteran population.”

“Our veterans have stood up for us, and we must stand up for them,” said Sen. Merkley. “Long wait times put our veterans’ health in jeopardy and are simply unacceptable. It’s common sense to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, and to create a ‘docs-to-doctors’ pipeline so that service members who have served in health care roles in the military can easily transition their service into the VA system.”

“For too long, the VA has struggled to recruit and retain frontline health care providers, further exacerbating the issues already plaguing the VA system,” said Sen. Tillis. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act directly addresses this problem by reducing bureaucratic barriers and by creating a streamlined process for transitioning service members to bring their invaluable training and experience to the VA, which will make it easier for VA facilities across the nation to provide our veterans with the high quality care they need and deserve.”

“Our veterans deserve the highest quality of care,” said Sen. Brown. “This bill will remove red tape so we can put veterans’ needs first, increase the quality of care provided to those who served our country, and empower VA to hire enough staff to improve the overall veteran experience at different facilities.”

The legislation would make it easier for service members who have served in medical roles to transfer directly into the VA system and make it easier to transfer or share medical staff and services across VA facilities.

To provide VA with a large pool of trained medical staff who are already serving their country, the “Docs-to-Doctors” 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 service members 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.

Currently, certain VA medical professionals have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA health care providers report that his can take from six weeks to three months, or even longer. 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.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and The American Legion.

“DAV has long advocated for Congress and federal departments to work with state and local governments, employers, trade unions, and licensure and credentialing entities, to establish a clear process so that military training meets civilian certification and licensure requirements and allows veterans to take their vocational certifications and training directly into the civilian sector once they leave military service,” said Garry J. Augustine, DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director. “If passed and signed into law, the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act will eliminate employment barriers for military healthcare workers, allowing them to continue serving their fellow citizens by utilizing their top-notch vocational training without delay.”

“Veterans from medical occupational fields should be able to count their military service and experience when transitioning to the civilian healthcare workforce,” said Brett Reistad, National Commander, The American Legion. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would streamline the process for separating veterans and help address the staffing shortage at VA medical facilities across the country. This bill, as currently written, is good for our veterans and good for America.”

The Health Care Staffing Improvement Act has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

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