Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 Highlights
To improve access to and quality of care for veterans, the law:
- Requires VA to offer an authorization to receive non-VA care to any veteran who is enrolled in the VA health care system as of August 1, 2014, or who is a newly discharged combat veteran if such veteran is unable to secure an appointment at a VA medical facility within 30 days (or a future published goal established by VA) or resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, with certain exceptions.
- Requires VA to provide a Veterans Choice Card to eligible veterans to facilitate care provided by non-VA providers.
- Provides $10 billion for the newly-established “Veterans Choice Fund” to cover the costs of this increased access to non-VA care. Choice program authority would end when funds are exhausted or three years after enactment, whichever occurs first.
- Requires an independent assessment of VA medical care and establish a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access to care throughout the VA health care system.
- Extends the ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) pilot program for two years.
- Extends for three years a pilot program to provide rehabilitation, quality of life, and community integration services to veterans with complex-mild to severe traumatic brain injury.
- Improves the delivery of care to veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma as well as care for Native Hawaiian and Native American veterans.
To expand VA’s internal capacity to provide timely care to veterans, the bill would:
- Provides $5 billion to VA to increase access to care through the hiring of physicians and other medical staff and by improving VA’s physical infrastructure.
- Authorizes 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
To provide real accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers, the law:
- Authorizes VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and Title 38 SES equivalent employees for poor performance or misconduct.
- Provides an expedited and limited appeal process for employees disciplined under this authority. Appeals would go to a Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judge, who would have 21 days to decide on the appeal. If a decision is not reached within that 21-day period, then VA’s decision to remove or demote the executive is final.
- Prohibits SES employees from receiving pay, bonuses and benefits during the appeal process.
- Reduces funding for bonuses available to VA employees by $40 million each year through FY 2024.
To improve education benefits for veterans and dependents, the law:
- Requires public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive G.I. Bill education payments.
- Expands the Sgt. Fry Scholarship Program to provide full Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty after 9/11.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would result in net spending of roughly $10 billion from 2014 - 2024, making it less expensive than previous VA reform packages passed by the House and Senate.