Bills would improve the VA for Oregon veterans

August 13, 2017

Veterans in Oregon and across the country deserve quality care in a timely manner when they go to the VA. Unfortunately, long wait times at many facilities have resulted in delayed access to essential health services, especially in rural and underserved areas in Oregon. We can and must solve this problem, and I’ve sponsored legislation to help.

Let’s start by making sure the VA is adequately staffed with qualified medical providers, and that these providers are able to devote their undivided attention to serving those who’ve served our country.

Paperwork and patient record keeping should not stand between a veteran and his or her ability to see a doctor. In the private sector, physicians are aided by special assistants — referred to as medical scribes — to handle these administrative burdens so that the doctor can stay focused on taking care of the patient rather than spending time on data entry.

Recent studies have shown that the use of medical scribes in the private sector can increase the number of patients doctors see per hour by up to 59 percent. In July, the U.S. House unanimously approved my proposal — the VA Medical Scribes Pilot Act — to help bring that success to the VA.

This legislation would set up a pilot program for medical scribes at VA facilities so more veterans receive quality care and VA physicians are not bogged down by paperwork. I’ve heard from VA officials in Oregon, and more importantly veterans themselves, who’ve told me that implementing a scribes program will help improve the care Oregon veterans receive at the VA. It’s time to give the VA this new tool.

During my meetings with veterans throughout our district, I’ve heard about another roadblock to their access to timely care: staffing levels at VA facilities. In Oregon and across the country, VA facilities are not able to hire enough doctors to treat veterans on a timely basis.

This is especially true in rural and underserved areas like those in Oregon, where the VA has difficulty competing with the private sector when it comes to recruiting and retaining medical providers. While they can often match the salary offered by the private sector, their ability to compete on student loan forgiveness is too limited. That’s why I wrote and introduced the Doctors for Veterans Act to help fix this problem.

The Doctors for Veterans Act increases the maximum student loan benefit the VA could offer under its Education Debt Reduction Program, which is used to help recruit medical providers to care for our veterans. This bill provides additional help to rural and underserved VA centers and clinics like those in our district, where provider shortages are often more severe. The increase brings the VA in line with other federal loan forgiveness programs designed to recruit medical providers into underserved areas of the country.

These two measures arose from meetings with VA officials across Oregon, and while they won’t solve all of the problems plaguing our veterans health care system, they will help improve access to care for those who fought for our freedom.

I’ve assisted over 6,000 veterans and their families with issues involving their benefits and care at the VA. If you or a loved one needs help with the VA or any other federal agency, you can call my office toll free at 800-533-3303. I have a team of veterans on staff ready to assist you.

— Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, represents the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House.