By Patricia Kime
North Carolina's senior senator wants the Veterans Affairs Department to consolidate its health care organizational structure, a move he said would restore the Veterans Health Administration's "patients-first" purpose.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced a bill Thursday that would reduce the number of VA's regional medical administrative offices, called Veterans Integrated Service Networks, from 21 to 12.
The change would trim administrative overhead and "reallocate and better target funds to improve health care for our nation's war heroes," Burr said.
"The bureaucracy of our veterans' health care system has become so bloated that our nation's veterans are suffering as result," he said. "By reducing the number of administrative offices and reallocating staff and resources to our VA medical centers in the field, we can provide our nation's veterans and their families with quality care they deserve."
VISNs handle budget, administration, management and oversight of VA medical centers within their geographic regions. They were created to consolidate duplicated services and allow medical centers to focus on health care and services.
But Burr said they siphon money away from veterans' health care, with their collective staffs topping more than 1,300 employees. Originally, they were to have about 220 staff members, he said.
The proposed Veterans Integrated Service Network Reorganization Act calls for 12 VISNs with no more than 65 full-time employees located on a VA medical center campus in their regions.
The bill also would create four regional support centers, responsible for financial oversight, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans programs, women's and homeless veterans programs, and energy management.
Prior to 1994, VHA was divided into four regions with individual VA medical centers reporting directly to VHA for budgeting and program management.
In 1995, VISNs were created to decentralize decision-making authority and coordinate administrative duties across geographic regions.
Burr is the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.