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Ohio lawmaker: Make Congress use VA health care

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 13, 2016

WASHINGTON — An Ohio Republican has a plan to spur improvements at the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs — require members of Congress to abandon their private health insurance and instead use public VA health care.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, the Army Ranger who filled John Boehner’s congressional seat in June, introduced a bill Tuesday that he calls the Lead by Example Act and it would put all members of the House and Senate — as well as their staff —into the VA system of hospitals and clinics across the country.

Congress is now offered the same private health insurance available to federal workers. It is widely considered high-quality coverage. Meanwhile, nearly 9 million beneficiaries are enrolled in VA health care and the system has struggled with access problems since a 2014 wait-time scandal that revealed many veterans were secretly experiencing long delays in treatment.

“Overhauling the VA is no easy task and will require consistent and intentional congressional oversight for years to come,” Davidson said in a released statement. “My bill will ensure members of Congress have stakes in improving the failing program for our veterans.”

Davidson also announced the proposal in a joint column with Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and Army veteran. Hegseth previously led the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America, which advocates for VA reform.

Many of the problems revealed in the agency two years ago still remain despite efforts at an overhaul, Davidson and Hegseth argue in the National Review column published Tuesday.

“Veterans are still dying as they wait for care, getting shuffled around and lost in the bureaucracy,” they wrote.

Congress passed landmark $16-billion legislation in the summer of 2014 that created an emergency expansion of health care for veterans, provided new tools for firing bad employees and called for a commission to study how best to fix the agency.

The Commission on Care, which was created by the 2014 law, wrapped up work in July and issued a number of recommendations. Some of them were opposed by President Barack Obama and it remains unclear how the commission’s work might be translated into changes at the country’s second largest bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, there is legislation in the House and Senate that would push ahead with new VA reforms and its future is also uncertain as Congress faces the end of the session in an election year.

“When this bill receives a vote, we will have a clear count of members who actually want to fix the VA — and who are willing to put their own health care on the line to do so,” Davidson and Hegseth wrote.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten
 

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio

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