Congress orders VA to curb unqualified, unlicensed doctors

Abbie Bennett
December 17, 2019 - 11:09 am

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Both chambers of Congress are working to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs holds the doctors and other healthcare staff it hires to a higher standard by cracking down on unqualified or unlicensed providers.

The House on Tuesday voted to approve a bipartisan bill that directs the VA to "enforce the licensure requirement for medical providers" called the "Improving Confidence in Veterans' Care Act.

Department of Veterans Affairs watchdogs and journalists have reported about veterans being hurt by or dying because of underqualified or negligent VA doctors and other medical providers for years. 

In October alone, a former VA pathologist was charged with manslaughter in the deaths of three veteran patients and is alleged to have botched diagnosis in 3,000 cases, a former nurse has been charged with stealing pain medication from veterans, a VA staff member is accused of sexual assaults and another former staff member is a person of interest in multiple veteran homicides, among others.

A recent VA Inspector General report showed that VA hired and then allowed an under-qualified eye doctor to perform cataract surgeries for two years. The VA announced it was disciplining nine employees at a nursing home where a veteran reportedly died covered in ant bites. 

A recent Government Accountability Office report showed that VA facilities are hiring healthcare providers with histories of misconduct or lack of proper credentials

Senators Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., introduced a bill last week also aiming to curb the problem. 

The Veterans Health Administration Caregiver Retention and Eligibility Determination Act (VHA CRED) would: 

  • Require VA leadership to create regulations and guidance to improve credentialing processes for providers who work at VA hospitals and clinics;
  • Ensure those responsible for credentialing are properly trained;
  • Require the VHA Undersecretary for Health to develop and implement a program to monitor credentialed providers to make sure they still meet requirements;
  • Require the VHA Undersecretary for Health conduct an audit of all providers with "adverse actions" and the effects those actions may have had on whether they are eligible for VA employment, and submit that audit to Congress. 

Senators also sent a letter to VA in October, asking how it planned to implement changes, but hasn't gotten a response so far. 

"It is outrageous that the VA is not sufficiently vetting its health care providers,” Hassan said in a statement. 

“We should expect, and demand, the highest standard of care for Iowa’s veterans and those across the nation," Ernst said. "This bipartisan bill builds on my effort to ensure the VA is held accountable for who they’re hiring to provide treatment and care to our nation’s veterans." 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.