It has been a whirlwind month for legislation concerning veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs. DAV welcomed a new VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate and sworn into office. In a letter to VA employees, Secretary McDonald reiterated the department’s commitment to integrity, excellence, and advocacy – noting “trust is essential in everything we do.”
Within the last few weeks, then-Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson submitted a request for an additional $17.6 billion to being increasing VA’s capacity to provide medical care, through increased staffing and facility expansion. Congress, meanwhile, was busy debating legislation to create a temporary program expanding private sector care, while also investing new resources into the VA health care system.
National Legislative Director Joseph Violante testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, citing years of ignored Independent Budget recommendations to increase resources to offset the increasing demand for VA health care services. DAV, and other VSOs represented at the hearing, worked in concert with more than a dozen organizations to build support for Gibson’s request.
In late July, Congress reached a deal on the final VA funding bill. It provides $10 billion to give some veterans additional options for non-VA care, $5 billion for VA to hire more medical providers and strengthen its facilities, and another $1.3 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country. Having cleared the House and Senate, the bill now awaits the president’s signature.
We must all continue to work to ensure veterans’ health care needs are being met today, and well into the future. DAV and other VSOs share concerns this new legislation still has many unfinished details, and could result in unintended consequences for veterans.
DAV remains dedicated to ensuring veterans receive timely, high-quality care. The VA reported in an access audit in late July that the VHA has reached out to more than 217,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics, and more than 22,000 veterans have received accelerated appointments and taken off the electronic waiting list.
These figures represent the beginning of a lengthy, though critical process. As more changes are implemented with the newly authorized funding, we must work to safeguard the wealth of valuable, veteran-centered knowledge and expertise inside the VA system for the long-term benefit of veterans.