U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today reintroduced legislation that would create an independent ombudsman position within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) that would be tasked with establishing a methodology for resolving certain complaints levied by veterans, their family members or designated caregivers, VA employees, and third party health care providers.
Thune introduced this bill in 2016 in response to concerns he received from veterans who reported ongoing scheduling issues created by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability (Choice) Act of 2014, a law that was intended to increase veterans’ access to local health care, but has been blamed for numerous scheduling backlogs.
“The Choice Act was enacted with good intentions, but I think we can all recognize that there are problems that need to be addressed,” said Thune. “Our veterans should have access to top-notch health care without having to overcome the hassles the Choice Act was designed to alleviate. I’m hopeful this position in the OIG’s office will create the right amount of oversight to ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve. My bill would also help inform necessary changes to the Choice Act as Congress considers its extension.”
Under Thune’s legislation, the newly appointed ombudsman would serve as the central collection point for complaints related to problems with:
- Scheduling veterans to obtain care from third-party providers
- Authorizing veteran care to be administered by a third-party provider
- Enrolling third-party providers
- Copays and third-party reimbursement
- Coordinating care between the VA and third-party providers
The ombudsman, whose position would sunset after 10 years or when the Choice Act’s authorization expires, would be required to provide quarterly reports to the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs on his or her activity, including the total number of complaints received and complaints resolved and/or pending. He or she would also be required to provide recommendations for resolving the systemic problems with the Choice Act.