Last week, Seth Moulton introduced his first package of legislation in Congress: The VA Education Training and Sustainability (VETS) legislation package, four bills aimed at improving the talent pipeline at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities across the country.
Moulton, a Marine veteran who declined private Congressional health insurance to continue to receive care from the VA, has said that his top priority in Congress is to ensure our nation’s 21 million veterans receive top care.
“Veterans have earned the best care in the world, and today we are letting them down,” said Moulton. “With long wait times, a backlog of claims and inconsistent care, we must do better for our nation’s veterans. This package of bills is the first of many steps to cut the red tape currently impeding quality care, and improve services for our nation’s veterans.”
The bills in VETS aim to improve care by offering incentives to both current and also potential VA health care employees. The VETS package includes four bills, including the Recruit Act, Train Act, Retain Act and Flexibility and Oversight Act. More information on each specific bill is below.
Recruit Act: Recruit top talent to the VA
· Expands the VA’s Health Professional Scholarship Program, which allows individuals to receive scholarships for health care education (e.g., nurses, physician assistants, physicians, etc.) in exchange for a certain amount of time of obligated service working at the VA.
· Ensures that scholarships may be up to 100% of tuition and expenses (e.g., books, etc.).
· Improves the Secretary of Veterans Affairs’ authority to adjust the ‘years of obligated service’ for which a VA healthcare employee must serve in proportion to the total amount of scholarship received (i.e., someone who receives full scholarship would have to serve more years of obligated service after finishing medical or nursing school).
Train Act: Invest in current VA employees
· Expands the VA’s Employee Incentive Scholarship Program, which aims to ensure that current Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees have scholarships for certain health professions which face retention or recruitment challenges.
· Changes from three to four years (i.e. the length of medical school) the number of school years for receiving a scholarship, thus allowing current employees who wish to go to medical school the incentive to do so.
· Increases the authorized amount of scholarship in a given academic year from $10,000 to $25,000 (to account for increased costs of tuition, particularly medical school).
Retain Act: Keep talented medical staff at the VA
· Expands the VA’s Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) to include a pool of health care workers eligible for debt reduction for costs related to tuition or related educational expenses (e.g., books, fees, etc.)
· Expands eligibility for EDRP benefits to include doctors, nurses, physicians assistants, audiologists, mental health counselors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and others (previously only those in positions that are hard to recruit or retain were eligible).
Flexibility and Oversight Act: Flexibility and oversight to better serve veterans
· Provides the Secretary of the VA the authority to transfer funds among various targeted employee recruiting, training, and retention programs in order to maximize quality of services provided to veterans.
· Requires the VA to report on the effectiveness of employee recruiting, training, and retention programs as part of the mandatory VA Annual Report to Congress.