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It’s no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system has crazy wait times. In a recent audit done by the Veterans Health Administration, wait times for appointments can be a month or longer.

Being a veteran, I have experienced this frustration. Transitioning from the military to civilian life is very hard for anyone; having to deal with health care, as well as trying to find a job that matches a unique skill set that a person acquired in the military only makes the transition more difficult. A bill that was introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in January, the Frontlines to Lifelines Act of 2015 (S.297), will make the transition much easier, at least for some. This act is an extension of the pilot program in which 45 intermediate care technicians, or ICTS, were hired by the VA to work as medical assistants. If this act becomes law, it will allow the VA to hire 250 combat medics and corpsmen as ICTs.

This bill is trying to do three things. First is to lower the wait times at the VA, second is to employ more veterans, and third is to allow veterans to be served by other veterans. Since the VA wait times are so long, the bill wants to continue this pilot program for another three years but hire more veterans this time, as well as allow advanced nurse practitioners who are employed at the VA as a nurse midwife, a clinical nurse specialist or a nurse practitioner to practice without supervision — except for the provision of mental health care, in which they will still need supervision.

In addition to allowing advanced nurse practitioners to take on more services, the bill allows ICTs to use their skills to be medical assistants and take care of the many tasks that can be done without the supervision of a doctor, thus freeing up the doctor to take other appointments.

The second purpose of this bill is to employ more veterans. Anyone who has been in the military knows that one of the biggest reasons for not getting out is job security. Oftentimes servicemembers will need to go back to school and gain a whole new skill set if they get out of the military. If a person has a family, taking a cut in pay, learning a new skill set and not having a guaranteed job is daunting and, many times, financially irresponsible. However, if this bill passes, combat medics and corpsman can transfer their credentials from the Department of Defense to the VA and begin a career as a medical assistant, or even use that time to determine if nursing school or medical school is of interest to them. This bill will require that the DOD transfer the individual’s credentials as corpsman or medics over to the VA.

Finally, upon joining the military, it is ingrained in each person’s head that they do not leave their fellow soldier, sailor, airman or Marine behind. When employing veterans to help other veterans, that mindset will likely be transferred over and the veteran who is working will ensure that the veteran receiving services is not left behind.

This bill is only a three-year addition to the one-year test program. But if the results continue to be positive, this can likely become a valid career option for many health care providers in the military.

Megan McDonnell served in the Coast Guard for four years. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work, with a military subconcentration, at the University of Southern California.


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