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Veterans Reforms Begich Championed in Alaska to Become Law

Senate Passes Bipartisan Veterans Bill, Which Heads to President’s Desk

U.S. Senator Mark Begich voted today for final passage of the veteran’s reform bill, also known as the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bipartisan compromise that will increase access to health care for veterans in Alaska and across the nation, as well as provide much-needed reforms to the current system. The bill was passed by a vote of 91-3.

The bill has now passed both the House and Senate, and heads to the President to be signed into law. Begich was a member of the Veterans’ Conference Committee charged with negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate veterans’ reform bill.

“I’m glad my colleagues in the House and Senate could put aside partisan politics and do what’s right for our veterans and I am eager to see Alaska’s successful programs being implemented nationwide,” said Begich. “There are dramatic changes in store for the VA in the coming months. They finally have additional funding to hire more doctors and nurses and the new VA leadership has the tools they need to hold VA staff accountable for the delivery of quality care. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee I will be keeping a close eye on the VA overhaul in the coming months. I want to see quick and measureable progress because our veterans deserve the best care available. They have earned it.”

“Senator Begich was instrumental in getting this bill done -- bringing valuable experience from reforming the Alaska VA and reducing wait times for veterans seeking health care. We used Alaska as a model for some of the key reforms in this legislation,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and lead negotiator on the veterans’ reform bill. “This is a good bill for veterans across the nation and I am glad we the Senate moved forward on this bipartisan compromise.” 

What veterans are saying about this bill

“This bill will go a long way toward amending the current state of affairs in which good employees are forced to cater to the incompetence of their superiors and coworkers who, due to standing practice, are nearly impossible to terminate, even in cases of gross misconduct.  Additionally, through the new hiring policies and collaboration with external healthcare providers, the rest of America's veterans to enjoy the same alternative care as those of us in Alaska.  This will not only decrease wait times and provide better levels of care, but will also allow the VA valuable time to infuse its workforce with new medical practitioners eager to do what they can to keep America's standing promise, ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle.’”  Bryan Box, member of Veterans of Foreign Wars and Student Veterans Association, Alaska Veteran

Background

In 2011, Begich introduced a bill and pushed the VA to establish the Alaska Heroes Card to expand health care accessibility for Alaska’s veterans. In response, the VA established a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Health Service to allow eligible veterans living in rural Alaska to access health care from a qualified facility in their community, instead of having to fly to a VA facility in Anchorage or Seattle. In addition, historic agreements with 26 Alaska tribes allows them to provide care closer to home for Alaska Native and non-Native veterans.  Veterans in Alaska also can access the Federally Qualified Health Centers for their care. 

Begich has been an outspoken critic of what he called stall tactics from some on the conference committee which were delaying the delivery of resources to our veterans. Recently Begich sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging them to instruct their members to get back to work and forge a deal improve health care and services for veterans across the nation.

Begich speaking last week in the Senate about the need to pass the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

This is a compromise bill based on the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 and for more details on the VA reforms in the Veterans’ Conference Committee Report visit the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee website.

For more information on Begich’s extensive work on veterans’ issues in Alaska please visit his Senate website.

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