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Boost for vets' health: Obama signs new law

Obama: 16.3 Billion VA Bill 'A Step Forward'



By MATTHEW DALY and DARLENE SUPERVILLE

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (AP) - 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.

Join the discussion

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bknab101 August 07 2014 at 6:57 PM

Gee, he couldn't do this FIVE YEARS AGO WHEN REPUBLICANS SUGGESTED IT??? You won't find a republican in the House or the Senate that wouldn't have voted for this type of spending for the last 5 1/2 years he's been in office. Its been the democrats that have used military and VA spending as a political football, trying to liken inner city welfare rats to our best and most courageous who EARNED the care they've been denied so Obama could pay for all the votes he bought from the welfare RATS!!!

Flag Reply +27 rate up
15 replies
are.we.better.off.now August 07 2014 at 6:58 PM

Barack Obama said to himself,
"Is this a good political move"?
Yes, yes it is --- so he signed it.

Flag Reply +18 rate up
chuck August 07 2014 at 7:53 PM

like he cares. he is just trying to soften it for his lib dem buds for the next election along with the illegals that he plans to have vote too!

Flag Reply +16 rate up
1 reply
michaelgary1 chuck August 08 2014 at 11:15 AM

Chuck,you think the GOP cares? They follow the orders of the Wall Street crowd. Paul Ryan's so-called budget cuts took from Veterans like myself but left untouched(as usual) corporate loopholes. These guys want us to fight to protect their oil profits,but could care less after the fight!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
frankiegallo33 August 07 2014 at 6:24 PM

Obama signed $hit,
It means nothing .
Read the small print & look at the hoops it makes a veteran jump through.

Flag Reply +12 rate up
7 replies
bailey.willie August 07 2014 at 7:03 PM

HE FINALLY DID SOMETHING GOOD . THE ONLY THING IT WAS A POLITICAL MOVE TO HELP HIS FAILING PARTY IN THE MIDTERM ELECTION

Flag Reply +12 rate up
6 replies
Debra August 07 2014 at 8:19 PM

Political move for obama bin laden....and his minions. Let's hope it actually helps our veterans in some way. Remember, what difference does it make to him or hillary huff n puff.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
4 replies
asstsysad August 07 2014 at 8:26 PM

And just this year Obama shut down over 150 Tricare support offices around the country which assist the Veterans with their medical claims...

The only reason why POTUS and congress are reacting to this VA Injustice is to avoid the possible flack that is coming up and make a Grandstanding Jesture to look like Heroes when they are ALL really Losers in Washington.

POTUS has never been for military in any way, his first year in office he had the VP go and do the ceremony at the Unknown Soldiers tomb while he took his family to the Lincoln Memorial...
I retired from the Navy in 1999 and continue to work on Navy ships and I'm appalled by our useless Govt...
I have no respect for anyone currently in our country's administration and constantly shudder at all of the decisions they make, they've destroyed our country and it will take Decades to recover...

Flag Reply +8 rate up
5 replies
tomkota August 08 2014 at 9:57 AM

i filed my va papers 4 times in the last times in the last 5 years ...and have not been seen yet....its just like it was when i left vietnam in 71......

Flag Reply +5 rate up
rjollierroger August 07 2014 at 7:47 PM

He has always told Congress, Send Me A BILL and I Will Sign It. It is about time they sent a bill, to be signed.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
6 replies
franksroom August 07 2014 at 7:15 PM

How many of you teabag Obama haters have a DD 214 with war service? If you do not this doesn't concern you

Flag Reply +4 rate up
10 replies
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