President Obama signed into law the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.
The bipartisan veterans' reform legislation will increase access to health care for veterans in Alaska and across the nation, as well as provide much-needed reforms to the current Department Veterans Affairs system. Begich was a member of the Veterans' Conference Committee charged with negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate veterans' reform bill.
"I am glad the Veterans' Reform bill is now law of the land, and I look forward to doing all I can to guide these reforms from my post on the Veterans Affairs Committee and will make sure there is quick and measurable progress in the coming months," said Begich. "Alaskans have been leading the nation when it comes to reforming the VA, and I am excited we can expand on some of the successful reforms. Though there is still more work to do -- what is most important is now the VA will have the additional resources and oversight to make sure that our veterans receive the care they have earned."
The bill passed both the House and Senate last week, and the President signed the bill into law on Thursday.
In 2011, Begich introduced a bill and pushed the VA to establish the Alaska Heroes Card to expand health care accessibility for Alaska's veterans. In response, the VA established a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Health Service to allow eligible veterans living in rural Alaska to access health care from a qualified facility in their community, instead of having to fly to a VA facility in Anchorage or Seattle. In addition, historic agreements with 26 Alaska tribes allows them to provide care closer to home for Alaska Native and non-Native veterans. Veterans in Alaska also can access the Federally Qualified Health Centers for their care.
"Senator Begich was instrumental in getting this bill done -- bringing valuable experience from reforming the Alaska VA and reducing wait times for veterans seeking health care. We used Alaska as a model for some of the key reforms in this legislation," said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and lead negotiator on the veterans' reform bill. "This is a good bill for veterans across the nation and I am glad we the Senate moved forward on this bipartisan compromise."
Begich has been an outspoken critic of what he called stall tactics from some on the conference committee which were delaying the delivery of resources to our veterans. Recently Begich sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging them to instruct their members to get back to work and forge a deal improve health care and services for veterans across the nation.
This is a compromise bill based on the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 and for more details on the VA reforms in the Veterans' Conference Committee Report visit the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee website.
For more information on Begich's extensive work on veterans' issues in Alaska please visit his Senate website.