Local congressman reintroduces bill to reduce wait times at VA hospitals
U.S. Reps Dr. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) recently introduced The Doctors Helping Heroes Act.
The bipartisan legislation aims to shorten wait times at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities nationwide by allowing foreign doctors trained in the United States to get visas to practice at those facilities.
“As a doctor who’s worked in the VA system, I’ve seen first-hand how much our veterans and their families have sacrificed for our country,” Bera said. “They deserve the best care possible, and I’m proud to have worked with Congressman Meadows on this common sense bill to make sure doctors are available to care for our vets.”
Most international physicians currently trained in the United States on J-1 visas must return to their home country for two years after their residency ends before they can apply for a new visa or a green card.
Through this legislation, these doctors can stay in the country without returning home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. That includes VA hospitals.
This legislation came after the Association of American Medical Colleges concluded in a study released on March 3 that the nation will face a shortage of 46,000-90,000 physicians by 2025.
“The doctor shortage is real – it’s significant – and it’s particularly serious for the kind of medical care that our aging population is going to need,” Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, said in a press release to promote the study.
Bera and Meadows introduced similar legislation last June to help deal with the serious shortage of doctors in the VA system and help decrease wait times at hospitals caused in part by that shortage.
“We first introduced Doctors Helping Heroes in 2014 after audits of the VA found that too many veterans were facing unreasonable wait times to get the health care they needed,” Bera said. “The waiting periods at many VA hospitals are still too long, and we must do better.”
He added, “Having more doctors available to care for our vets will help fix that, and I hope we’ll see more progress with this legislation in the current Congress.”
The legislation Bera and Meadows introduced last year came a few months after the VA’s Office of the Inspector General detailed that the health care system had delayed care to veterans and changed scheduling practices to conceal those delays at several VA facilities.
A report issued last spring showed at least 1,700 veterans in Phoenix were never placed on a wait list to get the medical care they needed.
This report and other findings led to the VA secretary stepping down and other changes including the bipartisan legislation, which never advanced out of a committee.