On Thursday, August 7, President Obama signed into law H.R. 3230, the “VA Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.” The bill provides $15 billion of emergency funding to ensure that veterans do not wait months for care when they are unable to be seen by VA doctors.
The bill comes into law in the wake of a scandal involving thousands of veterans waiting on long care lists that led to the resignation of former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
After Shinseki’s resignation in May, Obama vowed to get to the heart of the problem, a problem that was called to attention more than a decade ago but has recently taken the headlines. “As early as 2002 the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States] has testified before Congress that veterans are waiting too long for care and that VA doesn’t have the doctors and space needed to provide timely care,” said VFW Commander-in-Chief John Stroud. “This legislation is a positive first step in putting VA back on track, but it will take decisive leadership within VA, as well as strong oversight from Congress and the veteran community to ensure our veterans receive the timely, quality care they have earned.”
At the recent VFW convention, VFW leadership banded together to tell Congress to pass the bill before their August recess. The VFW grassroots organization Action Corps bombarded Congress with calls reinforcing the VFW message. This forward action on the part of VFW is a major reason for the push to get the legislation passed this week.
H.R. 3230 is a small stepping stone in the right direction, but much more has to be done, both to repair the fractured relationship between veterans and the government and to ensure that a similar situation is impossible in the future.
New VA Secretary Robert McDonald traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., on Friday, August 8, for the first time since his appointment, making his way to where the scandal began in order to take the first steps in improving veteran health care. The reports that sparked the controversy indicated that more than 40 veterans died at the Phoenix VA while waiting to receive care.
Although this measure is a step forward, money is hardly the only problem. VA’s $154 billion budget has more than doubled since 2006, strongly indicating that infrastructure in terms of delivery of care has to be completely revamped. Officials indicate that the process of reforming VA is to be a slow burn. ♦