12.20.19

Senate Passes Gardner VA Accountability Legislation

Washington, D.C. – On December 19, 2019, the Senate unanimously passed S. 221, the VA Provider Accountability Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Susan Collins (R-ME). The Senators introduced S. 221 earlier this year to bring much needed accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation will now be referred to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

A troubling GAO report from 2017 revealed an unacceptable trend of VA facilities failing to report providers who made major medical errors to the National Practitioner Data Bank and the relevant state licensing boards responsible for tracking dangerous practitioners. As a result, these practitioners can go into private practice or move across state lines without disclosing prior mistakes to patients or state regulators. A 2017 USA Today story uncovered specific, horrific medical care failures and mistakes that the VA allowed to continue and concealed. 

On May 22, 2019, the Comptroller General of the United States (GAO) testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that since the 2017 GAO report the VA has failed to implement recommendations regarding appropriate reporting to state licensing boards. These concerns were reiterated in an October 16, 2019 GAO report.

The VA Provider Accountability Act would solve this problem by requiring the VA to inform the National Practitioner Data Bank and state licensing boards of major adverse actions committed by medical providers at the VA. Additionally, it would prevent the VA from signing settlements with fired employees to hide major medical mistakes in their personnel files. 

“The vast majority of VA employees and medical providers provide exceptional care to our veterans and we are grateful for their service,” said Senator Gardner. “However, there is no excuse for allowing certain medical providers with a history of committing major medical errors to continue putting other patients at risk. We owe every single veteran the best possible care, and we can only provide that care with increased accountability. Senate passage of this bipartisan bill means we are one step closer towards protecting veterans, and potential patients outside the VA system, from mistakes made by medical providers who have proven themselves to be dangerous.”

“While a great majority of VA doctors provide the very best of care, the system can be ruined by a few bad apples and it’s our duty to protect Veterans from these dangerous doctors. I originally cosponsored this bill in response to a 2017 GAO report that showed an alarming pattern of concealing poor care and major mistakes within the VA. I am proud to have joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this important bill because we need to hold all our medical professionals accountable,” said Senator Manchin. “While I appreciate the efforts that the VA has made to correct this on their own, they are not enough. Now that our bill has passed, strict guidelines will be implemented to assure our Veterans they are receiving the highest quality of care.”

“It is critical that those on the front lines of caring for our veterans are held to the highest level of accountability,” said Senator Moran. “For too long, mistakes made by VA providers have been concealed by the VA and not reported to the appropriate state and federal databases. I’ve introduced this legislation to make certain no adverse medical outcome impacting a former servicemember is swept under the rug. Our veterans deserve a VA that is worthy of their service and sacrifice, and holding providers accountable is an important step to restoring trust in the VA.”

“As a doctor, I believe the patient comes first. When VA providers make mistakes, transparency and accountability protects veterans best,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Covering up mistakes does not protect patients. Passage of this bill makes it more likely veterans get good care.”

“Our nation’s veterans deserve access to the high-quality health care that they have earned through their service to our country. As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I was shocked and outraged by recent investigations that found far too many instances of patients’ care being mismanaged by medical providers,” said Senator Collins. “By requiring the VA to report these issues in a timely manner and prohibiting the concealment of serious medical errors in settlements with fired VA employees, this legislation would help restore accountability, protect veterans, and enhance the care that veterans receive at the VA.”

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) support this legislation. 

“The FSMB applauds the passage of S. 221 and commends Senators Gardner, Manchin, Moran, Cassidy, and Collins for championing a bipartisan bill that will improve the quality and safety of health care both within and outside of the VA system,” said Humayun Chaudhry, DO, President and CEO of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). “Improved information-sharing with the NPDB and state medical boards will significantly help protect patients and identify and prevent unsafe or dangerous providers from treating veterans and their families.”

“PVA believes the key to providing exceptional health care to veterans starts with quality providers. We thank Senators Gardner, Manchin, Moran, Cassidy, and Collins for introducing and the entire Senate for approving the Department of Veterans Affairs Provider Accountability Act which protects veterans from providers who have made major medical errors and enhances the care that veterans receive at the VA,” said Heather Ansley Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Associate Executive Director for Government Relations.

“Ongoing license verification and adverse event reporting to state licensing boards are key patient safety measures in the health care industry,” said David Benton RGN, PhD, FFNF, FRCN, FAAN, CEO of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). “NCSBN commends the Senate on advancing these meaningful public protection initiatives in the VA and would like thank Senators Gardner, Manchin, Moran, Cassidy, and Collins and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for their steadfast leadership. We look forward to these provisions becoming law and partnering with the VA to implement them expeditiously.” 

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.