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One of the best ways to honor veterans? Fix VA hospital’s staffing problems.

Since 2001, about 2.5 million members of the U.S. military—Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and respective Reserve and National Guard units—have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many served multiple deployments.

Many survived serious injuries that would have resulted in death in past wars.

Many returned to find that their local health care facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were already operating at full capacity serving veterans from Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf conflicts.

  • The most common physical injuries: missing limbs, burns, spinal cord injuries, and brain injuries.
  • About 70% of vets experience some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health issues after deployment, according to The Wounded Warrior Project.

Last year, multiple VA hospitals and clinics were found to have systemic problems—including severe under-staffing that left vets waiting months just to get an appointment.

The VA is still trying to fill catch up. The government agency reportedly has 41,500 open jobs for doctors, nurses and medical staff

Oregon lawmakers’ plan to staff the VA hospitals

Long wait times put our veterans’ health in jeopardy and are simply unacceptable.

– U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon

On November 10—the day before Veterans Day—members of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee introduced a bill to help solve the problem of under-staffing in VA hospitals.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is designed to make it easier for VA hospitals to hire staff—improving care and cutting wait time for patients.

  • Recent veterans who served in medical roles could easily transfer from the military health care system to the VA system. Returning veterans will be considered in the same as job applicants from within the VA, allowing for a much faster hiring process … and a staff that’s well-trained in military injuries and illnesses.
  • Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants could provide full treatment to patients.  Most states allow full medical practice authority to nurses with post-graduate education and advanced training. The VA facilities have not … contributing to clinic staffing shortages, especially in rural areas.
  • Doctors could transfer from one VA hospital to another without “significant red tape.” The current process can take several months, which means it’s hard to put doctors where they are most needed.

Our military medical professionals are some of the best-trained, most experienced folks around when it comes to providing care … This bill will help the VA tap that resource, cutting red tape, hiring the trained medical professionals it desperately needs, and reducing wait times for our veterans at home.

– Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon

Oregon lawmakers were well-represented in the introduction of this potential new law.

Senators Wyden and Merkley are both sponsors of the bipartisan bill.

Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio plans to introduce the companion bill in the House next week.

So far, The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is supported by more than 40 veterans and health care organizations,  including Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and the American Nurses Association.

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