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Obama signs veterans' health care overhaul

Thursday, Aug 7, 2014 1:04 PM
Last updated 6:55 PM
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FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Veterans may soon have easier access to government-paid health care under a bill President Obama signed into law Thursday, the government’s most sweeping response to date to a public uproar over systemwide problems that have rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs.

With service members, lawmakers and military leaders looking on, Obama put his pen to the bill at Fort Belvoir, an Army base south of Washington, where he held up the legislation as a rare example of Republicans and Democrats working together effectively. Denouncing delays in care for veterans as wrong and outrageous, Obama said the government would keep moving ahead with urgent reforms to ensure veterans have the care they’ve earned.

“This will not and cannot be the end of our effort,” Obama said. “We have to make sure the VA system can keep pace with the new demands.”

The $16.3 billion measure allows Veterans Affairs to hire thousands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics nationwide. Under the new law, employment rules will be revised to make it easier to fire senior VA executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly.

Congress approved the measure last week before taking a five-week recess — one of the few significant bills approved this year by both the House and the Senate.

The legislation is a response to reports of veterans dying while awaiting appointments to see VA doctors and of a widespread practice of employees covering up months-long wait times for appointments. In some cases, employees received bonuses based on falsified records.

The veterans bill, approved with strong bipartisan support, “will put in place reforms and needed additional resources to meet the high standard of service that our veterans have earned,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

The bill devotes $10 billion in emergency spending over three years to pay private doctors and other health professionals to care for qualifying veterans who can’t get timely appointments at VA hospitals or clinics or who live more than 40 miles from one of them. It includes $5 billion for hiring more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country.

The VA has taken aggressive steps in recent months to address systemic problems found in its health care system, Earnest said, adding that reform measures will continue and accelerate under new VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, was sworn in July 30 to lead the sprawling agency, which employs more than 310,000 people and provides health care for nearly 9 million enrolled veterans and disability compensation for nearly 4 million veterans.

“This is a labor of love for him, and he has hit the ground running,” Obama said.

The VA announced last week that it planned to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data.

Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said more VA employees will be disciplined as the agency tries to root out the causes of a scandal that he said has breached the trust between veterans and the agency created to serve them.

Gibson, who served as acting secretary for two months after Eric Shinseki resigned as VA secretary, has vowed to protect employees who file whistleblower complaints — a promise McDonald has echoed since taking office. Any intimidation or retaliation against employees who raise concerns will not be tolerated, they said.

MAJOR PROVISIONS

A bill approved by Congress aims to alleviate delays many veterans have faced in getting treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics and end the widespread practice of covering up long wait times for appointments. The legislation also makes it easier to fire hospital administration and other senior VA executives.

Congressional budget analysts put the cost of the bill at $16.3 billion over three years and estimate it will add $10 billion to federal deficits over the next 10 years.

The legislation:

—Devotes $10 billion to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live far from them. Only veterans who enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away are eligible for outside care.

—Devotes $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical and mental health professionals.

—Authorizes $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA outpatient clinics and other medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

—Gives the VA secretary authority to fire immediately poor-performing senior executives. They would have seven days to appeal, with a final resolution 21 days later.

—Expands a scholarship program for children of veterans killed in the line of duty to include surviving spouses.

—Allows all returning veterans and eligible dependents to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

—Cuts funding for annual bonuses for VA employees to $360 million, $40 million less than last year.

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AFjoe
4669
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AFjoe 08/07/14 - 12:24 pm
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1
Macrocosm

The VA is govt. run....a macrocosm of OB care and the future under government run health care system.

Bizkit
34098
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Bizkit 08/07/14 - 01:46 pm
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Five years after Obama

Five years after Obama promised to address the VA problems and did nothing we see Congress finally act to address the problems. He could have unilaterally addressed this as he promises and likely will follow through with the latin american illegal immigrants, but he didn't care about the vets who served and paid taxes and rather support a bunch of illegals.

corgimom
36353
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corgimom 08/07/14 - 02:19 pm
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He did address the problems,

He did address the problems, but until Congress passed the bill, he couldn't do anything.

The President doesn't run the VA, Congress does.

To suggest that he "didn't care about the vets" is inaccurate, to say the least.

Bizkit, people always want to blame the President for everything. If the President uses an executive order, then Republicans complain that he is circumventing the Constitution. If he waits until Congress passes a bill, then he's accused of "not doing anything" and "not caring about vets".

So how would you like it to be? Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't?

itsanotherday1
46654
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itsanotherday1 08/07/14 - 04:17 pm
4
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The president doesn't just

The president doesn't just sit around waiting on bills to be passed. He sets the agenda for what he wants accomplished and then works with congress to get it done. They don't always comply, but he had two years of a majority in both houses and did NOTHING on veteran's healthcare.

cush1944
12146
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cush1944 08/07/14 - 04:40 pm
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"Bizkit, people always want

"Bizkit, people always want to blame the President for everything.:
corigmom, you and the 99% of the left blamed and still do blame everything on Bush. Now it is congress's fault. Yeah, I get it.

fedex227
11187
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fedex227 08/07/14 - 05:29 pm
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Finally, someone who gets things done ...
Unpublished

1982 -- VA director Robert Nimmo describes symptoms of exposure to Agent Orange as little more than "teenage acne." No additional funding approved.

1984 -- VA officials diverted or refused to spend more than $40 million that Congress approved to help Vietnam veterans.

1989 -- President Ronald Reagan elevates the Veterans Administration to Cabinet status, creating the Department of Veterans Affairs.

1991 -- Doctors at the VA's North Chicago hospital found to ignore test results, failed to treat patients in a timely manner and conducted unnecessary surgery.

2001 - GAO finds that veterans wait more than two months for appointments. No additional funding allocated.

2003 -- A commission appointed by President George W. Bush reports that 236,000 veterans had been waiting six months or more for initial or follow-up visits. No congressional action taken.

2005 -- A tip leads to revelations of "significant problems with the quality of care" for surgical patients at the VA's Salisbury, North Carolina, hospital. One veteran who sought treatment for a toenail injury died of heart failure.

2007 -- Outrage erupts after documents show senior VA officials received bonuses of up to $33,000 despite a backlog of hundreds of thousands of benefits cases. No corrective action taken.

And this is the President you want to demonize for dealing with VA issues?

nocnoc
46840
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nocnoc 08/08/14 - 08:04 am
4
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I hate to be the bearer of such blunt facts

But having had a lot of family in the military and various wars, conflicts, police actions and such.

The failure of the VA and its level of care after a conflict is NOTHING NEW.

Since Vietnam that I know of, the VA has always been years behind and only played catch up after massive Vet' complaints were published by the Media and were logged.

In short it is a cycle that has repeated itself after every conflict since the 1970's that I know of.

But yes, there is blame for some more than others.

Overall our whole political Leadership has failed our VET's time and time again. But while CONGRESS is acting innocent, let us remember where the laws and $$$$$ starts, it starts in the US congress. So they also have an equal level of blame in this matter.

Congress has Senate and House committees dedicated to the Arms Services and the VA. Were they asleep the last 8 years

You should remember these people, they get elected and RE-RE-RE-elected every 2 or 5 years.

Now there's a cycle that needs breaking.

nocnoc
46840
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nocnoc 08/08/14 - 08:04 am
2
0
Saw it wrote yesterday

Could the AC do a comparison of HOSPITAL STAFF DOCTORS TO VA STAFF DOCTORS Bonuses ?

An Print it?

Besides why are we giving out bonuses at all, given the VA Bonus system has failed?

Bizkit
34098
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Bizkit 08/08/14 - 08:26 am
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Corgi that is an absurd

Corgi that is an absurd argument because Obama promised to address the Latin American humanitarian crisis without Congress-although the House did pass a bill. Obama has stated repeatedly he doesn't need Congress and will usurp them-as he does with enforcing which laws he wants and ignoring others. Obama didn't execute over a dozen immigration laws and then turns around with the Dream Act and now this invasion of illegals. Obama's actions are as capricious as a fart in the wind.

Bizkit
34098
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Bizkit 08/08/14 - 08:27 am
0
1
Corgi that is an absurd

Corgi that is an absurd argument because Obama promised to address the Latin American humanitarian crisis without Congress-although the House did pass a bill. Obama has stated repeatedly he doesn't need Congress and will usurp them-as he does with enforcing which laws he wants and ignoring others. Obama didn't execute over a dozen immigration laws and then turns around with the Dream Act and now this invasion of illegals. Obama's actions are as capricious as a fart in the wind.

Bizkit
34098
Points
Bizkit 08/08/14 - 08:31 am
1
4
Actually Bush did try to

Actually Bush did try to address it and apparently did reduce waiting times and then told Obama of his progress and pointed out the problems. During his administration there was a review of the VA that was good. Just like Bush warned Congress of the impending economic collapse three times. I'm not a big Bush fan but he did try apparently. Course no matter what he tried everyone still blamed him.

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