Ensure physicians who treat vets are licensed

By REP. MICHAEL CLOUD | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: July 25, 2019

How would you like to receive medical care at your local hospital only to find out later your doctor was not licensed to practice medicine?

Would you believe that our veterans have to face this issue when they receive medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs?

In one heartbreaking case, officials at a VA medical center in Iowa City, Iowa, hired a neurosurgeon despite several malpractice claims on his record and a revoked medical license in the state of Wyoming.

Yet the VA still hired him. In the following months, some of his patients reported complications and one man reportedly died from an infection after four brain surgeries.

Only after USA Today reported this story did the VA move to fire the physician. He ultimately resigned.

This is not an isolated case. A recent report found that some Veterans Health Administration facilities had hired unqualified doctors who had lost their medical licenses, some for reasons like patient neglect or other serious offenses. The main reason unlicensed doctors were permitted to practice was because VHA employees were not properly trained on the resources available to check the status of these licenses.

Online records are readily available and easily accessible for VHA hiring officials. For example, the National Practitioners Database lists the status of all physician medical licenses. When a doctor applies to practice at a VA facility, the first step should be ensuring physicians wishing to care for our veterans are qualified and licensed to practice.

I recently introduced the Improving Confidence in Veterans’ Care Act to correct this oversight and help improve veterans’ confidence in VA physicians. Unqualified doctors should not be providing care for our veterans, and my bill would make sure that any doctor whose license has been taken away or suspended would not be allowed to practice medicine for the VA.

Requiring regular audits of all the health care providers who are serving veterans through the VA, which my legislation does, would ensure licenses are kept up-to-date. Also, any VA employee who interviews and hires doctors would be required to receive training on how to check and make sure the doctors have valid licenses.

High quality care is directly linked to reliable doctors, but as of now, these simple standards are not law. I am working to change that so that veterans can better rely on the VA for quality care.

In the past, the VA has not lived up to the standard of care our veterans deserve and, while improving the VA has been a priority recently, there is still much work to be done. I will continue working in Congress to build consensus on this issue and garner support for the Improving Confidence in Veterans’ Care Act.

The liberty we enjoy in the United States is not without cost. And many of our veterans continue to pay the price with scars they brought back from war. Our nation owes it to our veterans to deliver on the promises we made to them. Because exceptional Americans like our veterans deserve exceptional health care.

Michael Cloud, a Republican, represents Texas’ 27th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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