Boost for vets' health: Obama signs new law

Legislation gives resources to the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve access and quality of care for veterans
Associated Press
Aug 7, 2014


Tens of thousands of military veterans who have been enduring long waits for medical care should be able to turn to private doctors almost immediately under a law signed Thursday by President Barack Obama.

Other changes will take longer under the $16.3 billion law, which is the government's most sweeping response to the problems that have rocked the Veterans Affairs Department and led to the ouster of Eric Shinseki as VA secretary.

Improved access to outside care is likely to be the most immediate effect. Veterans who have waited at least a month for a medical appointment or who live at least 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs hospital or clinic will be able to see private doctors at government expense.

Expanding the VA staff by hiring thousands of doctors, nurses and mental health counselors — another key component of the law — will take months to get underway and years to complete, VA officials said. Opening 27 new clinics across the country will take at least two years.

"Implementing this law will take time," Obama acknowledged as he signed the bill at Fort Belvoir, an Army base in Virginia just outside Washington. Service members, veterans groups and military leaders attended the ceremony, along with lawmakers from both parties.

Obama called the legislation a rare example of Republicans and Democrats working together effectively. He also said more action was needed.

"This will not and cannot be the end of our effort," he said. "And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can't lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans."

Noting issues including mental health care and homelessness among veterans, he said, "we've got more work to do."

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the new law "a Band-Aid solution," all that Congress could accomplish in an emergency.

"Anybody who thinks this is going to fix the problem is not being honest about this," Rieckhoff said, citing a host of issues the bill leaves unaddressed, from veterans' suicides and homelessness to a stubborn backlog in disability claims.

Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, called the bill an important step to begin repairing systemic problems at the VA.

"But it is only one step and only a beginning," he said.

The measure, approved overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, 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.

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.

The law 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.

Veterans groups said that just as important as the new law will be the performance of new VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who was present for Thursday's bill-signing.

The 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.

McDonald has pledged to "transform" the VA and has said improving patient access to health care is a priority, along with restoring transparency, accountability and integrity to the agency. He has directed VA facilities across the country to hold "town hall" style meetings to make sure they're getting honest feedback from veterans, a move Obama applauded Thursday.

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

McDonald travels to Phoenix on Friday to visit the VA hospital where the scandal started amid reports of secret waiting lists and patients dying while waiting for care.

The VA has reported recent progress in reducing delays. VA data from mid-July showed about 35,000 veterans had waited at least 90 days for initial appointments, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

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.


The Big Dog's back

Thanks President Obama.

Darwin's choice

Thank you republican's for shaming the democrat's pork laden bills out of existence six times! Funny how the usual trumpeting by the thieving democrats is not happening....



DC is great for promises and photo ops, let's see if throwing more of MY money at the issue stops the corrupt beaurocrats of the VA from lining their pockets and ignoring those they have sworn to serve.

There you go again

You don't mean photo ops for Obama, do you?!?!
He has flatly refused any photo ops (sarcasm inserted here).


Re: "photo ops"

FYI: There was a running joke (and apparently some truth) in Chicago about Jesse Jackson:

Never get in his way of a camera, he'll run you down.


Re: "VA data from mid-July showed about 35,000 veterans had waited at least 90 days for initial appointments, down from 57,000 in mid-May."

H*ll, this alone helps prove that socialized medicine even on this small scale is an expensive FAILURE in the U.S.

And the single payer extremist bozos want a variation of this broken boondoggle to provide health care for a population of 300 million racially, culturally and ethnically diverse people?

Know this: The Soviet Union was the FIRST country in history to provide FREE universal health care for all it's citizens. The system was fraught with massive waste, fraud and abuse.

Where's the USSR now? KAPUT after drowning in debt and military adventurism.


The Big Dog's back

You know, it's about time you quit spreading that bullspit about the Soviet Union in order to scare people here. It was not free as real Russians will tell you in the link I provided. And they certainly don't want a SS wannabe telling their story.


You have a hard time knowing what a fact is, I suggest you look up the definition of the word.


Re: "You know,"

From your link:

"The typ­i­cally Soviet traits of doing things: bureau­cracy, cor­rup­tion, the noto­ri­ously abhor­rent lev­els of cus­tomer ser­vice and the low pri­or­ity that the state would give the health industry."

"noth­ing was easy and noth­ing was cer­tainly free."

Thanks for the confirmation!

Bring on that FREE single payer health care and FORWARD SOVIET!!!


Ha! I've been slaughtering spelling bureaucracy WTF is wrong with my spell check???? Glad I saw it. Thanks!

knowitall are so off track. The US is usually last in metrics for health care of the industrialized countries. Look this stuff up! The only thing we are #1 in is cost. We have great health, just costs to much. Work on the cost, not limiting access to it like you want to do.


Yeah that's why everyone who can afford it comes here for treatment, that's why United Arab Emirates paid Cleveland Clinic millions for their name and expertise.

Dr. Information

Obama met one time with the head of the VA during this scandal, and that was the day he resigned.

In the words of BIG POPPA and is true with our government "mo money mo problems".


@ Dr. I: Welcome back.

I thought perhaps that the SR's enfant terrible had expunged your UN.

Best of luck on your next censoring. :)


Let's see...

We've got sick veterans waiting too long for a doctor, and dead veterans artificially moved around on lists to make it appear a lack of treatment wasn't the VA's fault. The VA is inefficient and loaded with bureaucracy. It all too clearly needed a significant fix.

So what does Congress and the President do about a program that's definitively proved the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing, and which is too big and too expensive? It EXPANDS it and throws MORE money into it!

It would be a LOT cheaper and FAR more efficient for the government to operate as an insurer rather than a healthcare provider. Let vets see the doctors they want to see and have access to the recommended treatment(s) no matter where they're conducted using their government-paid insurance coverage. And then it'd be totally awesome if the REST of us were allowed to see whatever doctor WE want to see, too!

The Big Dog's back

Gee, they wouldn't have to expand it if it wasn't for bush's war in Iraq .

All that can be said with any certainty is that as of last December more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the monthly rate of new patients to these facilities as of the end of 2012 was around 10,000. Beyond that, the picture gets murky. In March, VA abruptly stopped releasing statistics on non-fatal war casualties to the public. However, experts say that there is no reason to suspect the monthly rate of new patients has changed…


You mean the same war that democrats approved as well? Remember John Kerry's famous quote, as well as Hillary trumpeting her approval.

The Big Dog's back

When are you right wingnuts going to own up that it was YOUR President who got us into the Iraq war? It was YOUR President who was asleep at the wheel for 9/11. It was YOUR President who presided over the Great Recession.

Darwin's choice

obama does nothing but fail.


Bigdog.....I thought for sure you would be in Cleveland today with deertracker and jizzbo for the Gay games.

The Big Dog's back

Is that where you are tweeting from?


Sam......I like your thinking. Why should vets not have access and why shouldn't other citizens get the same prices that vets pay? We have too many systems at work in America. Pick one and treat all Americans the same.


Doesnt Dog know that the Democrats insisted that Bush call up a second vote on going into Iraq so that they would be on record as having supported the war?
The VA has been screwed up way before the last 2 wars. In essence you're blaming the vets for the problem, there are just too any of them. No it's the jacka**es administering the care, not the number of vets.
Obama is bombing Iraq as you it's, months too late but......

The Big Dog's back

Like I said in another story, you right wingnuts have no standing to criticize anyone about Iraq since it was YOUR President who opened up Pandora's box.


It was YOUR congressmen that agreed with Bush. I have EVERY right to criticize you morons for supporting those who agreed with Bush. Please tell us all why you hate Bush, You agree with him on almost everything because you have yet to call out your god for continuing the same policies.

The Big Dog's back

Who sent the troops in Iraq? Wasn't Congress. So who was it? Say it , loud and clear, BUSH!


No! Bush worked for Cheney and Rumsfeld. Two of the biggest liars, war mongers, and war criminals the US has had leading this country.


Agree 100%


The president can only declare war with congressional approval. Who OKed him to do it Dog??? Who did it? Your boy Hillary and the rest of your hypocrites that secretly support bush.
Why do you hate him again?


Should have done it earlier. Now they want to put the ISIS flag on the White House.


The Isis flag has been on the WH since Jan 2009.


Not really. Looks like the Stars and Stripes to me.