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VA, Veterans Groups Voice Support For Hirono Bills Aimed At Improving Veterans Care

Legislation Would Streamline Benefits, Close Loophole For 144,000 Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, and many veteran service organizations expressed their support for three of Senator Mazie K. Hirono’s bills to improve VA healthcare and benefits at Wednesday’s Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. Senator Hirono also called for the funding of critical VA programs for the next fiscal year.

“We owe it to our brave men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for our country that the VA has the tools it needs to better serve all veterans accessing the care they have earned,” said Senator Hirono. “These bills would make it easier for the VA to recruit medical providers, improve the process to access survivors’ benefits, and provide an emergency safety net to more than 144,000 veterans waiting for VA care. Our veterans will also be at serious risk if critical services are disrupted because Congress cannot pass a budget, and I hope that we can all work together to ensure that we uphold our commitment to those who served our country.”

Click here to watch Senator Hirono’s testimony on the legislation and the importance of uninterrupted funding for VA programs. 

Read below for more on Senator Hirono’s bills that were considered before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee:

S.1450, The Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Medical Staffing Recruitment and Retention Act, would match up VA policies with private sector practices and allow VA Medical Centers to implement flexible physician and physician assistant work schedules. Currently, the VA’s policies don’t sync up with how private sector medical professionals manage their schedules. Hospitalist and Emergency Medicine physicians specialize in the care of patients in the hospital, often needing to work irregular work schedules to accommodate the need for continuity of efficient hospital care. This bill would give the VA authority to align VA policies with the private sector, facilitating the recruitment and retention of emergency physicians and the recruitment, retention, and operation of a hospitalist physician system at VA medical centers.

The VA, VFW, American Legion, Concerned Veterans of America (CVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), AMVETS, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the American College of Emergency Physicians support this bill.

S. 1451, The Veterans’ Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act, eliminates the need for survivors or spouses of deceased or totally and permanently disabled veterans to file a formal claim before the VA settles and pays claims for survivor benefits.  Right now, survivors or spouses of veterans have to file a formal claim and go through an often lengthy process in order to receive VA survivor benefits, like burial/funeral benefits or disability pensions, for veterans who are deceased or totally and permanently disabled. The Veterans’ Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act would give the VA authority to pay a survivor claim without a formal application when sufficient evidence is already on record.  The authority would allow automation of the following benefit categories: VA burial/funeral benefits, VA dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), VA Survivors Pension, and VA payment of certain accrued benefits upon death of a beneficiary to survivors.

The VA, VFW, American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), PVA, AMVETS, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), IAVA, and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFL-CIO have endorsed this bill.

S. 1693, The Waiver of 24-Month Eligibility Requirement for Emergency Treatment, would help extend emergency care coverage for veterans to around 144,000 veterans waiting for VA care. This bill fixes a catch-22 in current law that puts veterans who are new enrollees in the VA system at financial risk if they experience a medical emergency. Under current law, a veteran enrolled in the VA system who receives emergency care at a non-VA facility can be reimbursed for those costs only if the veteran had also received care at a VA facility in the preceding 24 months. The intent of this requirement is to encourage veterans to seek preventative care, which decreases the need for more expensive emergency care. The problem is thousands of veterans have recently come home from overseas and they can’t meet the 24-month requirement. These veterans have scheduled their first new patient examination with VA, but they have not yet received their examination because of VA waiting times.

This bill is endorsed by the VA, American Legion, VFW, PVA, DAV, CVA, and IAVA.