By: Frank McCurdy, National Executive Committeeman – Article Published in Nov 2014
Today, five months after the American Legion (TAL) requested the resignation of Secretary Shinseki, legislative and administrative changes at the VA are being implemented. Necessary changes will take time. Too change the culture of an agency with 341,000 employees is no simple task. Only through the efforts of a VSO the size of TAL could the necessary influence be applied to bring about reforms.
The first big step was to provide the resources necessary to improve access and solve the medical staffing problem. Congress acted quickly and passed the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014” (H.R. 3230; P.L. 113-146). There two major provisions of the Act.
First, Congress provided 10 billion dollars to improve access. If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can request non-VA healthcare. If you reside greater than 40 miles from a VAMC (Veterans Administration Medical Center) or CBOC (Community Based Outpatient Clinic), you qualify. If you reside less than 40 miles, but are restricted by geographical challenges, you may qualify. If you have tried to make a VHA appointment, you may be eligible if they cannot schedule your appointment within the VA facilities wait-time goals (around 30 days). If you feel you qualify, give the VA a call.
You also need to know that this non-VA medical care is temporary and will terminate within three years or whenever the 10 billion dollars is spent. TAL position is that non-VA medical care, as a permanent solution, would negatively impact VHA. For that reason, time limits were set to sunset the program. The problem of getting appointments is somewhat caused by a lack of medical care personnel.
For that reason, Congress appropriated 5 billion dollars to hire medical care workers and to encourage medical residencies. This is a great step forward, but will take time to fill the shortages of medical personnel. What is the status of the new VAMC?
The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals has not ruled and we do not expect a ruling before January 2015. Kiewit Turner (KT) continues construction with about 1,000 workers on the project every day. As you know, we do not have a firm completion date, but I would guess first quarter 2017.
In my opinion, the Veterans of Colorado will eventually obtain a first class VHA System. The new CBOCs in Golden, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo are great additions to our network. We meet with KT and are starting to meet with VA construction personnel. If the VA will continue to work with “Transparency, Accountability, and Communicate” with their Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), we just might achieve VA Medical System we all can be proud of!