Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Brownley (D-CA) announced the introduction of several veterans healthcare bills to ensure all veterans have access to a breadth of care, including culturally competent mental health services and dental care, at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. In addition, Congresswoman Brownley is seeking more transparency in VA’s healthcare budget and improving the current VA medical facilities leasing process to properly access and meet the specific healthcare needs of our nation’s veterans.    

“As Chairwoman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, I understand that our veterans have unique healthcare needs that are not currently being addressed by VA’s healthcare system. In introducing this series of bills, I hope to ensure that we direct adequate attention to those needs,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “I stand committed to working to ensure that all veterans have access to the services they are entitled to.”

American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act

This bill would mandate that every VA medical facility have a minority veteran coordinator and that every minority veteran coordinator is trained in the delivery of culturally competent mental health care for Native veterans. The bill requires each facility’s minority veteran coordinator to work with the facility’s suicide prevention coordinator to contact local tribal leadership, provide the VA medical facility director with an annual written plan for specific outreach to Native veterans, and document the mental health care provided. It also requires VA to collect and provide data on the minority status, tribal enrollment, and second language capacity of VA mental health care providers.

“As Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, my top priority is ensuring that VA is providing equity in access to comprehensive, high quality care, especially to our most vulnerable veterans,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “For hundreds of years, Native Americans have fought to defend our nation. In fact, American Indian and Alaska Native people serve in the U.S. Armed Services at a higher rate than any other group. It’s time that we provide them with culturally appropriate mental health care and suicide prevention services as a part of the holistic care that Native veterans should receive from VA.

“We must work  to immediately ensure that Congress and VA give appropriate attention to the issue of suicide and provide adequate support for all veterans struggling with mental health issues.”

Read the text of the bill, here.

Dental Care for Veterans Act

This bill would eliminate the current statutory eligibility restrictions for VA dental care and expand eligibility for VA dental care to all veterans enrolled in the system. This bill will improve the physical health and welfare of our veterans and will ensure that veterans’ dental records are maintained in VA’s electronic health records system. Currently, VA healthcare providers are unable to see dental records of veterans who receive care outside of the VA or as part of the VA’s Community Care programs, thus preventing these providers from associating major health issues with a veteran’s dental health.

“Dental health is a critical component of overall health, yet VA has reported that only a small fraction of veterans – 534,000 out of 8.83 million VA enrollees – receive VA dental care,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “While VA offers the option to purchase dental care to certain veterans through the VA’s Dental Insurance Program (VADIP), only an estimated 614,000 veterans receive coverage through this program. This leaves the vast majority of veterans, especially those who cannot afford to purchase private health insurance, without dental care. My bill would ensure that all veterans in the VA healthcare system have access to this essential care, which VA’s own analysis estimates will result in lower overall costs and improved healthcare outcomes.”

Read the text of the bill, here.

Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act

This bill would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to verify the accuracy and adequacy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs budget for medical care. The requirement for GAO to review the VA healthcare budget request was first passed as part of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act in 2009. However, the three-year requirement expired after 2013.  

“It is our duty to make certain that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has the resources it needs to provide the healthcare our veterans have earned and deserve. As the Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, this issue is of paramount importance to me,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “Providing Congress with an independent analysis of the adequacy of VA’s budget for healthcare programs, including for the community care programs, will help ensure VA is never underfunded.”

Read the text of the bill, here.

Build a Better VA Act

This bill would modify the current process for approving U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility leases. Under current law, every major medical facility lease — leases which incur yearly rental costs of over $1 million — made by VA must be specifically authorized by Congress. For many years, Congress authorized leases routinely. However, in 2012, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) changed its method of scoring VA lease authorization legislation. Instead of scoring the annual cost of the lease, CBO scores reflect the cost for the duration of the lease – often 20 years or more. For instance, CBO now scores a 20-year lease, which costs $5 million a year, at $100 million in the first year. This new scoring method has made it extremely difficult to authorize leases, resulting in a backlog of necessary facilities that are not moving forward.

This bill would allow major medical facility leases to be authorized by a Committee resolution rather than legislation. This is the same process used previously by the House and Senate VA Committees, and is the same process currently used for other agency leases that are executed by the General Services Administration.

“CBO’s bureaucratic scoring mechanism has made it very difficult for the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees to authorize new facility leases. This is despite the fact that the funds are accounted for under the annual discretionary budget caps and appropriated annually. This has led to a bizarre situation where Congress has appropriated funds for VA’s medical facilities, but the VA can’t actually lease the facility,” said Congresswoman Brownley. “While Congress is bogged down in this bureaucratic dispute, the demand for VA health care is increasing, and many veterans trying to access VA care face long wait times and crumbling infrastructure at outdated VA clinics and medical centers. Fixing this problem is essential to providing veterans’ healthcare services, especially in chronically underserved areas.”

Read the text of the bill, here.


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