U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today introduced 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 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.
“There are some serious problems with the Choice Act that I think everyone can recognize,” said Thune. “What began as a straightforward attempt to address the scandal-plagued VA has become a headache for some veterans across South Dakota, even when few scheduling issues existed in the first place. Veterans should not have to face additional burdens to care, especially in a program that is meant to streamline the veteran experience. I hope this new position in the OIG’s office would help answer our veterans’ questions and resolve some of their problems. It’s what they deserve.”
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.