Congressman Greg Walden

Representing the 2nd District of Oregon

Greg Walden takes action to reduce wait times for Oregon veterans

August 3, 2017
Press Release

Greg Walden takes action to reduce wait times for Oregon veterans

Walden’s Doctors for Veterans Act will help Oregon VA facilities recruit medical providers for veterans in rural and underserved areas

WHITE CITY, OREGON – Continuing his efforts to provide Oregon veterans with access to quality, timely care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) is taking action to reduce wait times at VA facilities. During his meeting with VA officials and veterans at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics (VA SORCC) in White City today, Walden announced that he has introduced the Doctors for Veterans Act. Walden’s legislation will help VA facilities recruit medical providers for veterans in rural and underserved areas in Oregon and across the country.

“This bipartisan legislation is a product of feedback I’ve heard from veterans themselves and VA officials throughout our district about the difficulties providing veterans in rural Oregon with timely access to quality care,” said Walden. “The Doctors for Veterans Act will allow the VA to better recruit medical providers by offering student loan repayment benefits that compete with what is offered in the private sector. Especially in rural areas, our veterans are underserved and VA facilities in Oregon face difficult recruiting challenges.  This bill will help the VA compete with the private sector for qualified physicians to adequately staff their health centers in underserved areas and bring veterans the care they deserve.”

Walden’s Doctors for Veterans Act increases the maximum student loan benefit that the VA can offer through its Education Debt Reduction Program, which aims to help the VA recruit and retain medical providers. Walden’s legislation will help address the VA’s provider shortage by improving their ability to attract qualified medical providers, and ultimately improve access to quality, timely care for Oregon veterans. The bill provides additional help to rural and underserved VA centers and clinics, where the provider shortages are often more severe due to increased challenges with recruitment and retention.

Today’s announcement comes as a separate piece of legislation Walden introduced -- the VA Medical Scribes Pilot Act -- recently passed the House of Representatives unanimously. This legislation would implement a pilot program for medical scribes at VA facilities, which will help administratively unburden VA doctors and allow them to see more veterans. Both the VA Medical Scribes Pilot Act and the Doctors for Veterans Act seek to address issues Walden has heard about during his recent meetings with veterans and officials at the VA SORCC and throughout his district.

A section-by-section summary of the Doctors for Veterans Act is included below.

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Background

Section 7682 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code provides a student loan benefit for employees of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) who serve in positions that provide either direct or incident care services for our veterans. The Education Debt Reduction Program aims to help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recruit and retain providers to get our veterans access to quality care in a timely manner.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) runs a similar program that places providers in underserved areas: the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). The student loan benefits offered through the NHSC are significantly greater than they are for the VA, even though our nation’s veterans are clearly “underserved” -- wait times and backlogs have plagued the Department and hampered veterans’ access to care.

The Doctors for Veterans Act simply increases the maximum student loan benefit available to VA doctors and brings those benefits in line with the NHSC benefits. This will help address the VA’s provider shortage by improving their ability to recruit and retain providers, and ultimately improve access to quality care for our nation’s veterans.

Section 1 – Improvement of VA’s Education Debt Reduction Program

Subsection A -- Allows VA providers to use their student loan benefit for both graduate and undergraduate education. Current law states that participants may only use their student loan benefit for the degree that pertains to their medical provider position within the VA.

Subsection B -- Increases the maximum amount of student loan benefit available to participants in two ways:

- The per-year benefit cap is raised from $24,000 to $60,000.

- The total allowable benefit is raised from $120,000 to $240,000

Subsection B also directs the VA Secretary to establish a process for offering greater benefits to providers who work in the most underserved VA health centers. HHS uses this process to administer student loan benefits through the National Health Service Corps, and the Secretary is directed to implement a similar determination process for the VA’s student loan benefit.

Subsection C -- Increases benefits to account for income taxes levied on the student loan benefit received. Similar to the NHSC provision, this subsection assumes a 39% tax on the benefit and adds that amount to the base student loan benefit.

Subsection D -- States that these policies will apply for all participants who enter the program beginning on or after the date this bill is enacted.

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