Nov 10 2015

Today, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) joined Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Mark Warner (D-VA) at a press conference to introduce the “Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act,” which makes common-sense changes to staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the quality and delivery of care for veterans. Additional co-sponsors include Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The bipartisan legislation is supported by more than 40 veterans and health care organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and the American Nurses Association.
“This legislation is a textbook example of how members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee are coming together to identify the challenges facing the VA, and then working together to come up with common-sense, bipartisan solutions,” said Senator Tillis. “The VA has struggled to recruit and retain physician assistants and nurse practitioners, which has exacerbated the issues already plaguing the VA system. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act directly addresses this problem by reducing bureaucratic barriers and granting full practice authority to highly-trained medical professionals, which will make it easier for VA facilities across the nation to provide our veterans with the high quality care they need and deserve.”
The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act
“Docs-to-Doctors” Program to Help Servicemembers Leaving the Military Transition to the VA
To provide the VA with a large pool of trained medical staff who are already serving their country, this program improves the ability of the VA to recruit veterans who served as health care providers while in the military by requiring that the VA receive a list of servicemembers who served in a health care capacity while in the military or as part of the Coast Guard and have filed for separation in the previous 12 months; and treating these veterans as applicants from within the VA to allow for a more expeditious hiring process.
Uniform Credentialing Standards
Currently, VA doctors have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA doctors report that his can take from six weeks to three months. In a unified health care system like the VA, it needlessly limits the VA’s flexibility to have medical professionals provide services where they are most needed.
The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would require the VA Secretary to create uniform credentialing rules for medical professionals across the Veterans Health Administration.
Full Practice Authority for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and Physician Assistants
Advanced Practice Registered Nurses—nurses with post-graduate education in nursing—have advanced skills in either a specialist field or a generalist capacity, and are qualified for an advanced scope of practice. While many states allow them to practice across their full range of skills, giving health care systems better flexibility to meet patient needs, the VA has not yet granted APRNs this full practice authority.
The bill requires the Secretary to provide full practice authority to all Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and Physician Assistants in Veterans Health Administration, based on the scope of practice recommended by the appropriate professional organizations. This will give VA facilities greater flexibility to meet the needs of patients, and reflects the rapid changes being made in the private sector, where PAs and Nurse Practitioners are becoming an increasingly visible part of the medical workforce. Patient surveys show that patients are not only satisfied with non-physicians are their primary contact, but actually prefer them. Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, has been a leader in this patient-driven approach, utilizing an equal mix of physicians and non-physicians at its primary care clinics.