VA needs more care for women and to ok medical marijuana research

Jonathan Kaupanger
June 20, 2018 - 2:32 pm

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At times, it reads like a dog marking its territory. In other parts it sounds like a parent scolding a petulant child. The House passed the appropriation bill that funds VA through 2019 and in some areas 2020 as well. It’s now in the Senate waiting on approval, but here are a few highlights.

Homeless Programs Last year, Veterans Affairs made the unpopular decision to move $1 billion of homeless program funding to be used for general purpose funding. The stink raised by lawmakers and veterans organizations stopped VA from moving the money.  This bill does applaud VA for not moving the money, “While the Committee is pleased that the Department decided not to move forward with the proposal...it firmly says no to this happening next year, “[The Committee] expects VA to consult with the Committee before any attempt is made to change the manner in which funding allocations are made to the field for fiscal year 2019.”

The bill specifically states support for the HUD-VASH program which provides rental assistance for homeless veterans. It also gave a not so gentle reminder that VA is supposed to provide annual reports on how HUD-VASH money is spent.  

In total, the House plans to give VA $1.7 billion for veteran’s homeless programs next year, $20 million more than VA requested, and a slap on the hand for trying to be shady with last year’s homeless money.

Women veterans According to the bill, lawmakers in the House say “VA is not adequately addressing the health needs of female veterans.”  Specifically, they want VA to expand gender-specific care including issues involving female veteran suicide. 

Veterans Health Administration is encouraged to hire more female health care professionals and 90 days after the bill becomes law, the House demands a report on the number of females hired by VHA each year over the past five years.  

VA did get a pat on the back for its policy on breast cancer screening guidelines.  Women vets are eligible for mammograms at age 40 and may have them yearly by age 45 and every other year after they reach 55 years. The policy is so popular, language is included that will keep this policy active until January 2024. 

In total, Congress is giving VA more than $500 million for “VA to continue redesigning its women’s health care delivery system.”

Community Care This is where the Choice Program money sits.  Almost $14.5 billion is allocated for all community care programs and VA needs to keep $2 billion available until September 30, 2021. The bill does point out a remarkable bit of information on Choice, since its inception nearly $20 billion in emergency funding has been put into the Choice account. 

The Trump Administration is asking for a budget amendment of $1.9 billion for discretionary funding – meaning it’s not allocated for any specific thing. The House said no to this request but did state they would provide funding once a new program is started.

Patient safety and fire prevention Three months after this bill becomes law, VA will need to provide Congress with a report on operating room fires going back ten years. This goes back to a specific event where a patient was smoking in bed while receiving oxygen. The resulting fire killed the veteran and put other patients in the same room in danger.  Other fire incidents resulted in massive water damage because staff didn’t know how to properly shut off the sprinkler system.   

There isn’t any money set aside for this yet, but the report will have the number of claims brought against the VA and the amount that the government has paid on these claims.

Overweight veterans The House is calling on VA to slim down the veteran community. “79 percent of veterans receiving VA care are overweight and 43 percent are obese,” reads the bill.  Because of this VHA is asked to be proactive on the subject and provide evidence-based nutrition services.  The agency is also required now to brief congress on current practices and on a plan to expand nutritional education for veterans.

Naloxone Because of the opioid epidemic in the US, Veterans Affairs is directed to “access the benefit of providing Opioid Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution.” Specifically, how to prevent, recognize and respond to an opioid overdose. Dentists are specifically called out in the document to become more aware of the risks of opioids.  VHA is directed to come up with a strategy and then consider a pilot program.

PTS service dogs In what will be music to many ears, the Government is finally recognizing the benefit of service dogs for veterans dealing with PTS. This bill urges VA to prioritize support of veterinary care for service dogs and notes that a study on service dogs and the treatment of PTS will be finished by June 2019.  The House Committee on Appropriations is requesting a copy of the report as soon as it’s completed.

Cannabis research Language in this bill connects cannabis research to the reduction of veteran suicide.  “The Committee recognizes that continued focus on the discovery of treatment alternatives for veterans diagnosed with various conditions such as chronic pain and PTS are essential to reducing the number of veteran suicide.”  If this section remains in the bill, VA’s secretary will finally be able to use funds on researching efficacy and safety of cannabis usage for medicinal purposes. Then, 180 days after this becomes law, the Secretary will provide a detailed plan on how VA will follow this research. 

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