Today, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL) made the following statement on the introduction of the Veterans' Health Quality Improvement Act in the House of Representatives. The legislation, introduced by Durbin and Obama in November and today introduced by Reps. Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) in the House, aims to strengthen hiring practices and improve quality control measures at VA Medical facilities. The Illinois Senators developed the bill in response to the troubling circumstances at the Marion VA Medical Center (VAMC) in southern Illinois which suspended all inpatient surgeries at the hospital on August 31 due to an increase in unexpected deaths over a six-month period.
Senators Durbin and Obama said, "Our veterans served this country with honor and they deserve the very best care when they return home. The lapses in care at the Marion facility raise questions as to whether this is a larger problem with the VA's national health system. Every veteran deserves to know that his or her VA doctors are qualified and that all facilities have air-tight quality controls in place. The majority of VA health staff perform their jobs with exceptional competence and compassion on a daily basis. But the VA must show us how it is going to address the questions that have been raised so far and deal with new problems before they turn into new tragedies. This legislation helps ensure this happens, and we thank Reps. Costello and Shimkus for their leadership in the House."
The Veterans' Health Care Quality Improvement Act is designed to improve the process for hiring doctors, introduce a new quality assurance controls, and attract qualified medical professionals to the VA. The bill would require doctors applying to VA to disclose all past malpractice payments and disciplinary actions against them and any ongoing investigations or outstanding allegations, as well as to send a written request to any state board where they have ever held a license asking that board to disclose this same information to the VA. These measures would likely have stopped the Marion VA hospital from hiring Dr. Veizaga-Mendez while the Massachusetts State Medical Board was investigating him for gross incompetence.
The legislation also calls for a designated doctor, with the appropriate seniority and qualifications, to monitor the quality of the surgeons on staff. This doctor would report directly to the leadership of the hospital but would also report to a similar quality assurance doctor at the regional level. This would ensure that if there is a lapse in leadership at the facility a separate avenue exists for employees to report concerns.
Finally, the bill proposes incentives to more easily recruit qualified doctors to practice in VA facilities, where salaries are often not competitive with private hospitals or private practice. It calls on VA facilities to establish close affiliations with nearby medical schools, proposes to help relieve crushing medical school debt for young doctors willing to practice in a VA hospital and offers incentives to bring more senior doctors into a veterans hospital setting, even if on a flexible or part-time basis.