From their perches on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, two Florida Republican congressmen saw their proposal to help recruit and retain doctors in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) bear fruit.
Back in the fall, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., showcased his “Veterans Affairs Physician Recruitment Act” which creates scholarships recruiting medical students to work at VA facilities. In exchange for the scholarship, the student would, upon graduation, work at a VA facility for at least two years. The bill also reforms the VA student loan repayment program benefits for medical students who will work for the VA.
This week, the House Veterans Affairs Committee rolled Rutherford’s proposal into another bill which it then passed.
The North Florida Republican was happy with the result.
“Taking care of our veterans is our duty as a Congress and as Americans,” said Rutherford after the vote. “The VA MISSION Act addresses the numerous requests from VA leadership, veteran service organizations, and veterans in my district who have asked Congress and the VA to urgently work together. Streamlining the VA’s Community Care programs, expanding the caregiver program, instituting a fiscally responsible asset review, and improving the VA’s ability to recruit and retain health providers makes good on promises we as a nation have made to our veterans. I am thankful to Chairman Roe for his work on this bipartisan, bicameral package and for ensuring that we put our veterans’ care at the top of our priorities, and I look forward to Congress sending this bill to the President’s desk.”
When he brought the bill out, Rutherford pointed to a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report which shows the average age of the 25,268 doctors across the nation is 51.5 years old with almost 20 percent of them already eligible for retirement. The First Coast Republican said this was increasingly a problem in the VA medical system.
“I have heard from VA leadership, veteran service organizations, and veterans in my district who have asked Congress and the VA to urgently work together to curb the physician shortage at VA,” Rutherford said at the end of October. “When the VA struggles to fill these positions, veterans experience longer wait times and a decrease in the quality of care. We must equip the VA system with the tools it needs to compete with the private sector and other governmental programs to ensure it is fully staffed with qualified providers. This includes recruiting physicians who are in medical school or those who are recently graduated and assist in their education expenses in exchange for their services within the VA system. My bill is one of the many ways we are working to honor our promise to care for veterans. I thank my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for supporting this important piece of legislation for our veterans and look forward to it being considered.”
U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., who worked as a doctor during his time in the Army, was a cosponsor of Rutherford’s proposal.
“Ensuring our veterans have access to the care they need and deserve is one of our top priorities in Congress,” Dunn said. “Not only does this require streamlining the bureaucracy our veterans face on a daily basis, it also requires making sure our clinics and centers are adequately staffed. This legislation will help ensure our veterans receive the care they have earned, and I commend Congressman Rutherford for his leadership on this issue.”