(July 29, 2014) Congress likely will approve this week a measure to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs that will allow patients who must wait more than 30 days for an appointment to seek care from a VA-approved hospital.
However, the VA will schedule the appointment and retain the medical paperwork from the visit.
The legislation also extends for two years an ongoing program for rural veterans to receive care in their communities. Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH, has been a pilot program for two years in several states and allows veterans to receive care at local facilities that have contracts with the VA to provide services.
The reform package came together quickly in recent days as Congress prepares for a recess of more than one month starting Friday.
The reforms will cost $17 billion over 10 years and include $5 billion to hire more doctors and other medical staff.
The bill provides $10 billion for the Veterans Choice Fund that allows veterans to seek private care if they are eligible.
The VA secretary would also be given more freedom in firing senior executives and bonuses would be prohibited for VA employees through fiscal 2016.
The tough negotiations to reach an agreement on the bill were led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.