Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been trying to expand veterans’ access to private sector medical providers since 2014.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee also signed off on a clear oversight process for VA’s electronic health record modernization project, plus several other pieces of new legislation.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision from the Merit Systems Protection Board, which said the Veterans Affairs Department could put one of its indicted employees could be put on indefinite suspension.
Details on funding for the new program are still largely unclear. VA, however, believes administrative changes to the current Veterans Choice Program will save billions of dollars over 10 years.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said the agency is not privatizing, but additions to the Choice program will help create more comprehensive programs and partnerships to provide veterans with the best care.
Senators have two very different proposals to redesign the Veterans Choice Program. Both pieces of legislation represent very different ideologies and sides of a debate that Congress, the Veterans Affairs Department, veterans service organizations and federal employee groups have been having for the past three years.
The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which senators introduced last week, may have more momentum than previous bills. It now has 12 co-sponsors, including four Democrats and VA Secretary David Shulkin himself. Yet some federal employee groups and experts question whether the new bill has the teeth to truly tackle long entrenched cultural problems at the department.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld an appeal from Sharon Helman, the former director of the beleaguered Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, Arizona, who was fired in 2014. The court said a key provision that lets VA more quickly fire and discipline senior executives is unconstitutional. The Merit Systems Protection Board will review the original decision an administrative judge made regarding Helman’s removal.
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.
An extension and then redesign of the Veterans Choice Program, along with new employee accountability legislation, are top priorities for new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He said he’s working with Congress on new legislation to support those initiatives.