President Barack Obama promised to “do right” by veterans Thursday, as he signed a $16.3 billion bill designed to address some of the most pressing problems facing the Veterans Administration health care system.
“We have a sacred obligation to serve you as you served us, an obligation that doesn’t end with your tour of duty,” Obama said in remarks at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (AP) — Tens of thousands of military veterans who have been enduring long waits for medical care should be able to turn to private doctors almost immediately under a law signed Thursday by President Barack Obama.
Other changes will take longer under the $16.3 billion law, which is the government's most sweeping response to the problems that have rocked the Veterans Affairs Department and led to the ouster of Eric Shinseki as VA secretary.
VA medical facilities are improperly billing private insurers for treatment of service-related injuries and disabilities, according to veterans groups and a spot check of veterans’ medical records by NBC News.
Linda Byard, a 20-year Army veteran who was certified as 100 percent disabled because of injuries that occurred during her service, says she experiences misdirected bills nearly every time she has an appointment at a VA medical facility. “I have questioned this until I'm blue in the face,” she said.
Congress has confirmed a new secretary and sent billions of dollars into the coffers of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but after months of scandals, what would success look like?
There are some obvious issues veterans advocates want to see addressed: the need for doctors and benefits adjudicators to get rid of the wait lists; the time it takes for a veteran to get care; monitoring of veterans facing mental health issues because 22 a day are killing themselves.
The hard-fought passage of a $16.3 billion VA reform plan by Congress on Thursday drew applause from veteran groups, but they also warned it is only a first step toward a needed overhaul of the nationwide health care system.
The Senate voted 91-3 in favor of the bill late Thursday after overwhelming support in the House for expanding veterans’ access to private health care, hiring more Department of Veterans Affairs medical staff, leasing new health-care facilities and giving the secretary more power to fire executives.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign legislation to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department next week after the measure swiftly passed both houses of Congress.
For a moment, it appeared the signing of the bill would take place on Friday, a day after the Senate joined the House in rushing to approve the measure before Congress adjourned for August recess. But sources told Military.com the Senate was still working to finalize the document before sending it to the White House for the president's signature.
This week, Defense One co-hosted a symposium on veterans issues with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The timing couldn’t have been better: the day after House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., reached a deal with his Senate counterpart, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on VA reform legislation, Miller appeared at the event to make the case for a long-range effort to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department.
Navy man Jeff Craig, who deployed to Iraq during both Desert Storm and the more recent Iraq war, says all the lives lost and American billions spent are now wasted with the takeover of half the country by Islamic extremists.
Andrea Sandoval, who spent 2003-04 in Iraq and returned in 2011 briefly as an intern, says that watching the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) take over large portions of the country “with little or no resistance, is very disturbing.” But, she says, “it’s not our fault. This lies at the failure of the Iraqis.”
Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted to pass the conference report for H.R. 3230, the Veterans' Access to Care Through , Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bipartisan agreement to improve accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and expand access to care for veterans. It passed by a recorded vote of 420 to 5. The Senate is expected to pass the bill later this week, which will send it to the President's desk where it will be signed into law.
New revelations that Veterans Affairs Department employees at more than 100 sites manipulated patient data shows that Congress has yet to learn the true depths of fraudulent behavior at the department, a senior House lawmaker said Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, I believe we have not hit the bottom yet,” said to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)
Lawmakers have been able to “control the bleeding, but the patient is still on the table,” added Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who served as an Army doctor in Iraq and is a member of Miller’s panel.