The Department of Veterans Affairs has had an eventful week in the news, including everything from cleanliness issues, Congress wanting more budget control and even the beginnings of a possible payout scandal. Here’s a roundup of this week’s VA headlines.
The Trump administration announced new rules that would let almost all employers deny contraception coverage to employees. Under this rule, clerks at the VA who object to homosexuality could refuse to process benefits to a spouse in a same-sex marriage. Right now, VA guidance on the subject call for “equitable respectful and affirming delivery of clinically appropriate health care to lesbian, gay and bisexual veterans.”
On Tuesday, new legislation was introduced in the Senate that requires VA officials to provide spending plans and justification for funding requests. Under the new law, any request for more funding by VA would cause a third party review of the VA’s financial processes, including how the VA tracks its budget and spending.
The new potential law was introduced after VA Secretary David Shulkin informed lawmakers that the VA’s Veterans Choice Program would probably run out of money either late this year or early next year, even after $2.1 billion was added to the program in August.
USA Today published an article this week that says the VA has been hiding mistakes made by the Agency’s employees for years. Medical care workers who get in trouble aren’t reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank or state licensing boards. It also found secret settlement deals that include promises to hide the most serious mistakes were signed. The paper reviewed 230 of these clandestine deals and found settlements paid to keep whistle-blowers and disgruntled employees quiet.
On Wednesday, it was announced that the Eastern Colorado Health Care System has had to cancel or postpone 65 to 90 surgeries because they don’t have enough anesthesiologists or certified registered nurse anesthetists. The current staffing of eight anesthesiologists and 10 certified registered nurse anesthetists isn’t enough. The medical center needs at least three more of each and in an effort to help fill the positions has increased salaries for both jobs, up to $400,000 for the anesthesiologists and nurses can now make $173,000 per year.
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees held a demonstration in Reno, Nevada this week to protest Veterans Affairs staffing shortages. The union says there are more than 49,000 vacancies at the agency and that the staffing shortages are preventing veterans from getting quality care. The union is also asking that lawmakers strengthen existing services for veterans instead of sending them to private healthcare facilities.
And finally, today we found out that the VA has decided to not change a rule that stops VA employees from getting monetary benefits from for-profit colleges. In the past, waivers were passed on a case-by-case basis, something the VA has said was burdensome. After outcry from VSOs and legal experts, they decided not to follow through on the change.