A law signed Thursday by President Barack Obama aims to alleviate delays many veterans have faced in getting treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics and end the widespread practice of covering up long wait times for appointments. The legislation also makes it easier to fire hospital administrators and other senior VA executives.
Congressional budget analysts put the cost of the law at $16.3 billion over three years and estimate it will add $10 billion to federal deficits over the next 10 years.
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act:
—Devotes $10 billion to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can't get prompt appointments at the VA's nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live far from them. Only veterans who enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away are eligible for outside care.
—Devotes $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical and mental health professionals.
—Authorizes $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA outpatient clinics and other medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
—Gives the VA secretary authority to fire immediately poor-performing senior executives. They would have seven days to appeal, with a final resolution 21 days later.
—Expands a scholarship program for children of veterans killed in the line of duty to include surviving spouses.
—Allows all returning veterans and eligible dependents to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
—Cuts funding for annual bonuses for VA employees to $360 million, $40 million less than last year.