Veterans Information Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Date: July 21, 2015
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Veterans


Mr. BENISHEK. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in support of H.R. 2256, as amended, the Veterans Information Modernization Act.

I developed and introduced this legislation following an oversight hearing in January where the subcommittee attempted to determine the cost and value of the care that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides to our Nation's veterans.

Through the course of that hearing, it became painfully obvious that VA leaders were unable to provide basic information about, for example, how much the VA spends on a single patient encounter in a VA primary care clinic.

As a doctor who served veterans at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in my hometown of Iron Mountain, Michigan, for 20 years, it is unbelievable to me that the VA either does not have or is unwilling to share key information about the care that it provides.

The Congressional Budget Office testified in January that the VA ``..... provided limited data to Congress and the public about its costs and operational performance.''

The CBO went on to state, ``..... if this data was provided on a regular and systemic basis, it could help inform policymakers about the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of VA's services.''

Similar sentiments about the need for the VA to be more forthcoming were echoed at that hearing by witnesses from the American Legion and the Independent Budget.

We are all too well aware of the many--seemingly endless--scandals that have plagued the Department over the last year and a half. A lack of transparency is at the heart of all of these scandals, and one of the keys to overcoming them is requiring the Department to regularly provide specific information about the care that the VA provides.

H.R. 2256, as amended, would accomplish that goal by requiring the VA to submit an annual report to Congress regarding the provision of hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care by the VA health care system.

The report would encompass critical information about the operations of the Veterans Health Administration, including data regarding access, quality, workload, patient demographics and utilization, physician compensation and productivity, purchase care, and pharmaceutical prices.

The VA would also be required to detail third-party billings and collections, including information on both small and large claims. This would ensure that the growing disparity between the amounts that the VA bills for and the amount that the VA collects is accounted for and that the VA receives every available dollar that it is owed and uses it to improve the services that the VA provides. Many of the data points included in this report are already provided by the Department of Defense for TRICARE.

The regular receipt of this information would allow Congress, veterans, and the American taxpayers to make better informed decisions about the services that the Department is offering and to assist in creating the VA healthcare system that our veterans truly deserve.

Other provisions included in the Veterans Information Modernization Act would broaden the VA's definition of a ``homeless veteran'' to include veterans and their families who are fleeing violent homes, improve the VA's processes for tracking and procuring biological implants, and establish a commission to examine the VA's mental health treatment model and the benefits of incorporating complementary and alternative treatments.

I would like to offer my sincere gratitude and appreciation to my friends and colleagues--Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Congressman Phil Roe, and Congresswoman Janice Hahn--who have sponsored provisions of this bill.

I would also like to thank Chairman Miller; Ranking Member Brown; Congresswoman Julia Brownley, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health; and all of the members of the Subcommittee on Health on both sides of the aisle for their hard work and leadership on this bill.

I am proud to say that this bill, which was reported favorably out of the full committee earlier this summer and is fully offset, is supported by many veteran service organizations, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Concerned Veterans for America, the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Mr. Speaker, I urge all of my colleagues to join me in supporting the Veterans Information Modernization Act.

I reserve the balance of my time.