As is usual with legislators of the federal government, spending more is the answer to any solution. On July 28th, a conference committee of House and Senate leaders agreed on a bill designed to overhaul the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, which will cost $17 billion that will crack down on VA employee wrongdoing and direct funding toward solving the problems ensued by the recent scandal of waiting time and falsifying records. It is called a “reform bill” and will enact the following:
$10 billion will be placed in a created Veterans Choice Fund in the US Treasury to fund private treatment when vets cannot get a VA appointment within two weeks or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. It will also fund a pilot program to provide access to outside care in five of the 23 VA service networks that will be extended for two more years.
- put $5 billion toward new primary care and specialty care physicians and other health professionals.
- $2 billion will be used to lease new major medical facilities in New Mexico, New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, California, Puerto Rico, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
- Each year, VA will report the five job positions with the largest staffing shortages and endeavor to fill them.
- Graduate medical education residency positions at medical facilities would increase by 1,500.
- A medical scholarship program requiring service in the department would be extended for five years, and limits on a federal debt reduction program for graduates who go to work for the VA would be increased.
- Mobile VA medical centers will provide vets tele-medicine programs to be standardized with set goals and schedules to improve access.
- Senior executives could be fired at will by the secretary and would have only seven days to appeal, as part of the measures to crack down on staff falsifying data on patient wait times. Merit Systems Protection Board will refer the case to an administrative judge who would be required to make a decision on an appeal within three weeks. If no decision is reached, the secretary's decision stands.
- Any VA employee who falsifies medical appointment scheduling data or directs others to falsify data faces civil penalties, unpaid suspensions and/or terminations.
- Patient wait times could no longer be factors in employee awards and bonuses, though the VA abandoned the practice in early 2014.
- VA will contract for a private independent assessment of its health care system and management, which would focus on the needs of veterans and workloads of its staff.
- A commission will examine how best to organize the VA health care system, locate health care resources, and deliver health care to veterans over the next twenty years.
- A technology force would review the VA computerized scheduling system and its software. VA must implement any recommended upgrades within one year.
- VA will be barred from providing more than $360 million in employee awards or bonuses in any given fiscal year.
- Veterans will be denied money under the Montgomery BI Bill All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance Program and Post-9/11 Educational Assistance programs if they are being charged higher tuition than in-state students pay.
- A cap on VA pensions for veterans who get Medicaid coverage for nursing facilities would be extended for ten years.
- Collection fees on Veterans Housing Benefit Program Funding loans would be extended for ten years.
Most of these issues concerning VA health care could be solved and not cost as much by removing the cost of VA health facilities; by incorporating VA system into local hospitals and clinics. Instead, more facilities are proposed. Overall, the plan looks good, but costing more than it has to.
We need legislators and executive branch administrators who seek a reasonable budget and still get the job done. That is one of the major problems with the federal government that has escalated over the decades, caused by increasing bureaucracy instead of keeping it under control. Legislators, too often, are too eager to spend American taxpayer funding – and then wonder why the national debt is so high. When they realize they are running out of funding, more money spent than coming in, they do not think of budgeting, but instead, seek new ways to tax or increase existing taxes to match their spending.
What legislators do in Washington DC is unimaginable in the rest of society. Imagine what your employer would say if you demanded a pay increase based upon your increased spending instead of budgeting what comes in? This is what the elected officials expect and perform. It is also why American voters should vote responsibly, seeking candidates who have solid planning skills and take government budgeting seriously. It is also why it is the duty of every American citizen to keep tabs on the members of Congress and ensure that they are held responsible.
Problems occur when presidents sign bills that should not have passed and Supreme Court justices do not perform their constitutional duties; but invariably, the root of the problem comes out of the two chambers of Congress. It is those members that you and I are responsible for electing and ensuring they perform their duties per their oaths of office and the US Constitution and its amendments.
Too often Congress blames the executive office (president) – but the gist of the problem is that voters do not choose wisely. It would help a great deal if mainstream media was more objective in their reporting and not be bias. Too often, the media, directly and indirectly, have shot down good candidates in the presidential and congressional primaries because of their political manipulation. This needs to stop. Like Hollywood, it only takes a matter of hurting the media's income, by the overall society – the only acceptable system of censure to initiate and maintain any real reformation. Hollywood and media does not produce that which does not provide income.
This year, 2014, is an important congressional election year – please choose wisely and with the fortitude to bring back our constitutional republic to where it was created.