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Begich Uses Position on Conference Committee to Push for VA Accountability

Successful AK Programs Should be used as National Model

During the first meeting of the Conference Committee on the veterans care bill today, U.S. Senator Mark Begich noted progress made by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities in Alaska and encouraged his colleagues to support the bill, which includes several provisions that would implement Alaska-style programs nationwide.

Begich earned a key position on the Conference Committee on the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 because of his extensive work on veterans’ issues.  Begich said he intends to use his clout and influence on veterans’ issues to ensure veterans across the nation get the care they deserve and the VA is held accountable for the gross mistreatment of veterans. 

“Taking care of our veterans must be considered into the cost of war.  Our veterans and their families are living with the consequences every day,” said Begich.  “This bill ensures that our nation will live up to its promises. I want to be clear; we need to pass something to ensure accountability for the public trust.”

Video of Sen. Begich’s comments available here

The House of Representatives passed a different bill reforming the Veterans Administration, setting up the need for a Conference Committee so the two sides can work out differences and approve a bill for final passage by both chambers.

“Since day one in the Senate, I’ve been working to remove the obstacles that prevent our veterans from accessing the care they need.  As a member of the Conference Committee, I will push for the same kind of innovative solutions that have achieved real results in Alaska,” said Begich. “But in addition to providing improved services, I’m determined to make sure that we introduce more accountability in the system.”

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month by a strong bipartisan vote of 93-3 and includes several provisions already being implemented successfully in Alaska.

The bill includes the following reforms:  

  • 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 the 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 and the development of a plan and deadlines to address these shortages;
  • 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;

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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