The Department of Veterans Affairs needs $17.6 billion to hire 10,000 doctors, nurses and other health care providers and make other reforms in order to meet the needs of a growing number of veterans and reduce long waiting times for health care, Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wednesday. Gibson was responding to a question by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the committee chairman, about what the VA needs to address a large influx of veterans needing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other health care needs. Without the resources to deal with veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gibson said, “the wait times just get longer.”
Gibson testified that the $17.6 billion would help the VA meet the current demands on the VA health care system for the remainder of 2014 and for the next three years. It would be enough to hire physicians and expand capacity at community clinics and other health care facilities struggling to meet growing needs.
The hearing was held as Senate and House negotiators are working to resolve differences between Senate- and House-passed bills to make the VA more accountable and, on an emergency basis, to let VA patients who have experienced long waits for care to see private doctors or go to community health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities and Indian Health Care facilities.
“I am confident that my colleagues on the conference committee will put their differences aside and come together to provide much needed access to health care for veterans in a timely manner. We must give the secretary the ability to hold dishonest or incompetent senior officials accountable and the resources needed to increase capacity at VA medical facilities around the country,” Sanders said.
“In reality, there are more similarities than differences between the House and Senate bills. We have been making significant progress in the last month and I believe that we can reach an agreement very soon. Millions of veterans are counting on us to do so. We can’t afford to make them wait any longer for the care and services they have earned and deserve,” the chairman said.