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Politics

Florida Congressmen Highlight Alternatives to Reform VA

May 29, 2014 - 6:00pm
With the VA medical facilities under question in recent weeks due to altered waiting lists and other issues, Florida congressmen from both sides of the aisle showcased alternatives and reforms to the current VA system this week.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who served in the Army and now sits on the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, announced his support for the Veteran-Centered Access to Coordinated Health Care Act this week. The bill would ensure the VA secretary sets up contracts with non-VA medical care when it is not capable of providing services for geographical, capacity or timeliness reasons" and expand Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home), a pilot program in five states focused on veterans who live out of driving distance to VA facilities.

The secret waiting lists in Arizona and other VA facilities arent isolated incidents they are indicative of widespread problems at the VA in delivering care to veterans when they need it, where they need it, Rooney said on Wednesday. I have heard from veterans across my district who have been forced to wait months to see a doctor or begin needed, lifesaving treatment. Veterans in Floridas heartland have to travel long distances for simple examinations and procedures. This is unacceptable.

Just like veterans can take their GI benefits and go to any accredited school of their choosing, they should be able to take their health care benefits and go to any licensed doctor, especially when the VA cant treat them in a timely manner, Rooney added. By allowing the VA to contract with non-VA providers, we can ensure that our veterans get the care they need, when they need it.

On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., who spent the Memorial Day weekend in Afghanistan visiting the troops with President Barack Obama, offered reforms of his own this week. Taking to the House floor on Thursday, Murphy highlighted legislation of his own which would speed up the VA appeals claim process by moving it more in line with the best practices in the federal judicial system, reforming the post-9/11 GI Bill by making application costs reimbursable and reforming the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts Program to cover tuition for spouses married to active-duty armed forces members serving overseas.

"Too often we hear that our nation's heroes, after fighting for our country, come home only to have to fight to get the care, support, and respect they so deserve, Murphy said on the House floor. We must make sure that the brave men and women who have risked everything for our country are never forgotten or ignored; that we fight for them as they have fought for us. Let's express our gratitude for the service of our nation's military, veterans, and their families by recognizing the struggles they face and supporting common-sense bills such as these to make sure they get the care, benefits, and support they have earned."

In the meantime, with veterans in South Florida waiting more than 30 days for VA care, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., said she supported the VAs decision to use private providers to reduce the backlog.

"Expanding veteran care to private providers in order to prevent delays in treatment is a step in the right direction, Frankel said this week. Our returning heroes deserve the very best in health care without long waits for attention.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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