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By Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler
Guest Commentary 

We need to improve medical care for all our veterans


April 12, 2017

Those who have served our country deserve the best medical care, because that’s what they were promised and have earned. Yet I hear from veteran after veteran who has to wait too long to see a doctor or specialist.

The Veterans Administration (VA) is a massive organization, and there is hardly a simple fix to its challenges. However, one factor that negatively affects the quality of medical care veterans receive is the high staff turnover among VA providers. In fact, between August 2014 and December 31, 2015, the Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho region hired 58 primary care providers. During that same period the region lost 49 primary care providers, for a net gain of only nine.

So, why are care providers and doctors leaving VA clinics to seek employment elsewhere? One of the keys to understanding and addressing this challenge is hearing honest feedback from the departing employees themselves.

Only if VA providers have a safe place to share what they saw, heard and experienced in their workplace can the VA fix the problems that plague its facilities. Due to legislation I helped pass through Congress that was signed into law in 2015, the VA must already report back to Congress every six months on why doctors and providers are leaving. However, there were weaknesses with these reports.

First, the VA hasn’t set employees up to take the surveys with true privacy. If you leave your job at the VA, your survey can only be filled out in the middle of the human resource office , where human resource staff can watch. And you’re forced to use your staff identification number to log in. Therefore, we have to make exit surveys as easy and confidential as possible, encouraging departing providers to share honest feedback. In March, the U.S. House debated and passed a bill aimed at hiring and keeping more doctors at the VA. I offered a successful amendment to the bill that strengthens anonymity protections. My amendment requires exit surveys be conducted at a location that allows for privacy and does not require the departing employee to personally identify themself.

Second, we need to make sure the VA is solving region-specific problems. The VA needs to better understand what’s going on in the Vancouver VA, versus elsewhere in the country. Therefore, my recent legislative effort also requires the data collected from those surveys be compiled at a regional level to identify local needs. The problems that need addressing in Southwest Washington may not be the same as the VA concerns in Texas or Florida, for instance.

I’m pleased to report that the bill with my amendment passed the U.S. House with strong bipartisan support on March 17. I hope it continues to move forward and become law as soon as possible.

Few are as deserving of respect than our military heroes. Each fall, I share the stories of dozens of Southwest Washington veterans on my website at The sacrifices they made, the work they did, the hardships they endured all add up to what makes our nation so great. Making sure they get the care they deserve upon their return is the least we can do.


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