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Begich: Alaska VA Wait Times “Some of the Lowest in the Country”

Fights for Increased Action in Congress on Veterans Benefits

Today U.S. Senator Mark Begich took to the Senate floor to voice his strong support for the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 which passed the Senate yesterday by a strong bipartisan vote of 93-3 and includes several provisions already being implemented successfully in Alaska.

“It is appalling what was happening in Arizona and other places and this bill takes a critical step to improve access to care for thousands of veterans in Alaska and across the nation,” said Begich. “I worked with the Alaska Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand veterans’ access to federal healthcare services and now, Alaska has some of the lowest wait times in the country and get access to care closer to their families and homes. We have still have more work to do and I will use my post on the Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure that veterans and their families receive the benefits they have earned.”

Sen. Begich took to the Senate floor to discuss the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014

The bill includes reforms that:

  • Provides the VA Secretary with the authority to dismiss Senior Executive Service employees for underperformance, with the right to an appeals process without pay that would last no more than 30 days;
  • Requires VA to establish disciplinary procedures for employees who knowingly falsify data pertaining to wait times and quality measures;
  • Enhances collaboration between the VA and Indian Health Service (IHS) so that VA can expand outreach to IHS tribal health programs to negotiate reimbursement agreements and is        modeled after the aggressive work Begich did to expand VA access in Alaska;
  • Expands choices for health care providers to enable veterans to choose a provider at Federally Qualified Health Centers, Department of Defense or Indian Health Service facilities—similar to the system currently in place in Alaska;
  • Provides expedited hiring authority for VA doctors and nurses and additional authority to hire new providers;
  • Require extensive reviews to identify staffing shortages at each VA Medical Center;
  • Extends counseling and treatment to service members who suffered sexual trauma while on inactive duty;
  • Expands eligibility for care and services for military sexual trauma at a VA facility to active duty service members;
  • Provides in-state tuition rates to new veterans eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill;
  • Expands Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship to include surviving spouses of service members who were killed in the line of duty.

Begich, a member of both the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, has pushed for increased funding for the VA and for innovative programs to provide better access to care and to attract more qualified providers to work in VA health facilities in Alaska and across the nation.

For more details and examples on Begich’s work on veterans affairs visit his Senate website.

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