A new bill, filed by U.S. Senator for North Carolina Richard Burr, may give veteran’s some relief on the health care front.
Burr introduced the Veterans Integrated Service Network Reorganization Act of 2013. This bill is “designed to streamline the regional administrative offices of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) so that our focus returns to getting care to our veterans. The bill would combine the current 21 VISNs into 12 VISNs to reallocate and better target funds to improve the quality and consistency of health care for our nation’s war heroes,” said Burr.
The creation of the original VISN came out of a plan submitted in 1995 by Kenneth Kizer, former Undersecretary of Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs to Congress to restructure the VHA. In 1995, Kenneth Kizer, former Undersecretary of Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) submitted the plan with the intent of providing focus on the veteran patients. The purpose of the VISN was to serve as the basic budgetary and planning units for the veterans’ health care system.
“Each VISN would act as the operational arm of the VHA, handling all budget, management and oversight decisions for the VA medical centers located within its geographic boundaries and allocating resources where they are needed most,” said Burr’s office.
This structure was suppose to take the budgetary decision-making away from the centralized VHA and instill the VISNs with the independence to decide the best way to provide health care for veterans. This would, in turn, help health care centers concentrate on enhancing the care for veterans instead of being weighed down with budgetary concerns.
But, according to Burr, the VHA “has significantly strayed from its initial goal of using VISNs as focal points for budgetary concerns, and patient care is suffering as a result.”
According to Burr’s statement, in 2011, the VISN staff had grown to a total of more than 1,000, “well beyond the 220 total staff envisioned by Dr. Kizer…”
Because of this inflation, the VISN program is “siphoning precious dollars away from actual health care for veterans. In addition VHA has not kept up with the significant shift in veteran demographics to see where veterans are getting their care and how they can design VISN geographic boundaries to best serve the veterans who are seeking care,” Burr said.
“The bureaucracy of our veterans’ health care system has become so bloated that our nation’s veterans are suffering as a result,” Burr said. “By reducing the number of administrative offices and reallocating staff and resources to our VA medical centers in the field, we can provide our nation’s veterans and their families with the quality care they deserve.”
This bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Senator for Oklahoma Tom Coburn, would consolidate the geographic boundaries of 9 VISNs in hopes of restoring the patient-first purpose.
If passed, the bill would shrink the staff size of 12 VISNs to no more than 65 full-time employees whose sole focus would be on budget, management and oversight in order to alleviate the strain of these functions on the VA medical centers.
“In addition, VA employees at the VISNs whose positions do not deal with the budget would be transferred to other positions within the VA where their talents may be put to better use. This bill would also instruct VA to conduct a review and assessment of the current VISN structure and operations every three years and report any recommendations for changes to the Senate and House Committees on Veterans Affairs,” Burr said.
According to Jacob Gadd, deputy director for health care for the American Legion, The American Legion has urged Congress “ … to direct the Government Accountability Office and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General conduct a comprehensive study to include purpose, goals, objectives and budget and evaluation of the effectiveness of the 21 Veteran Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) and that the Veterans Health Administration leadership conduct an internal review and develop an action plan to address VISN management, staffing and its current geographic boundaries/catchment areas concerns, in order to better provide timely access and quality health care for veterans.”
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com.