U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin has introduced legislation to help address the serious physician shortage within the VA that keeps veterans waiting far too long for care.
"We must address the underlying issue of the serious physician shortage at the VA in order to address the unacceptable wait times our veterans are experiencing," said Baldwin. "My bill helps ensure that the VA has the tools to create and sustain a robust health care workforce so that we can guarantee our veterans continue to receive high quality health care in a timely manner. Our veterans have served our country with honor and we owe it to them to keep our promise to provide the benefits they've earned."
Senator Baldwin's Veterans Affairs Health Workforce Enhancement Act
Increases the number of VA Graduate Medical Education positions in needed specialties, including primary care and mental health, at VA facilities facing a physician shortage by 2,000 positions over five years.
Requires the VA to determine what facilities are experiencing a shortage and which specialties are in need, and allocate new residency slots based on that information, which they are also required to provide to Congress.
Strengthens the VA health care system by enhancing the capacity of the VA to train more physicians in needed specialties. The bill would help increase the number of physicians with experience in veteran care, which would help retain and recruit post-residency physicians to practice in the VA.
"Our veterans deserve the highest-quality medical care there is to offer, and the VA's medical facilities serve our nation's heroes. To that end, it is imperative we continue to train the next generation of physicians with the directive of serving that population, particularly in areas in which shortages of health care professionals have impacted access to high quality care," said Dr. John R. Raymond, Sr., President and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"The Veterans Affairs Health Workforce Enhancement Act will be enormously helpful in alleviating this critical physician shortage," said Robert N. Golden, Dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health and Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs at UW-Madison. "By highlighting primary care and mental health, the Act focuses resources on those areas with the greatest need. Increasing the number of residency training opportunities through the VA system will provide great benefit to our veterans, and ultimately also improve access to care for all Americans."
Expanding the VA's internal capacity is a top priority of America's most prominent veteran service organizations. Just this week, a number of national veterans' organizations sent a letter to Congressional veterans committees reiterating the need to "protect, preserve and strengthen the VA health care system so that it remains capable of providing a full continuum of high-quality, timely health care to all enrolled veterans".
A report from the VA's Office of Inspector General made public on May 28 detailed longer-than-reported wait times for veterans seeking doctor's appointments and showed systematic use of inappropriate scheduling practices, including efforts to hide wait times.
Baldwin is also a supporter and co-sponsor of the Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act. The bipartisan legislation would allow the VA to quickly remove and replace officials found to have been involved in any mishandling of veteran medical care or exhibiting poor job performance; hire additional doctors and nurses to cut down on wait times; standardize the process for sending veterans into the community when the VA is unable to provide timely care; and update the VA's scheduling system to improve access to health services.
This comprehensive, bipartisan legislation passed the Senate 93-6 in June and is currently being negotiated in a conference committee. Baldwin is working to include her Veterans Affairs Health Workforce Enhancement Act in the larger bill being negotiated.