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Reps. Heck, Kuster Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Speed VA Care, Provide Job Opportunities for Veterans

Bill provides path for former medics, corpsmen to work as physician assistants in the VA

As part of ongoing efforts to improve care and customer service at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Congressman Joe Heck (NV-03) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) today introduced legislation aimed at speeding access to care within the VA and providing job opportunities for veterans.

The Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015 establishes a five-year pilot program within the VA to provide educational assistance to former medics and corpsmen for education and training as physician assistants in the VA. The educational assistance would be provided through the existing VA Health Professionals Education Assistance Program, and other educational assistance programs of the VA. Those who serve in the pilot program would then have a period of obligated service at the Veterans Health Administration, allowing them to give back to fellow veterans.

“Our military provides service members with a range of skills,” said Rep. Kuster. “As these service members leave the military, they often seek ways to employ their expertise in continued service to their country.  This bill will allow veterans with medical skills to apply their training and knowledge in the service of fellow veterans, while at the same time helping to reduce shortages in one of the VA’s top five critical occupations.  I encourage my colleagues to join Congressman Heck and me in offering a pathway for veterans to continue serving their fellow veterans, while expanding access to care at the same time.”

"With 23% of PA slots within the VA open, a program like this is long overdue," Rep. Heck said. "This bill will help achieve two critically important goals: improving access to care at the VA and providing job opportunities for separated service members. No one is better qualified to care for our veterans than veterans themselves because they understand military culture and can relate to those seeking care. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Kuster to expand job opportunities for our veterans and improve access to care at the VA."

The Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015 has garnered support from leading veterans groups including the Veterans Affairs Physician Assistant Association (VAPAA).

“The Veteran Affairs Physician Assistant Association fully supports the 'Grow Our Own Directive,’” said Rubina DaSilva, President of VAPAA. “This bill provides support for returning combat medics and hospital corpsmen by including scholarships for them to become the next generation of veteran physician assistant providers like the returning Vietnam veterans generation did in the 1960’s and 1970’s who provided decades of health care to fellow veterans in the VA system. Physician Assistants provide high quality, cost effective medical care, and are part of the solution in improving access to care for our veterans. This bill helps remove some of the challenges in recruiting and retaining PAs in the VA system. VAPAA greatly appreciates Congresswoman Kuster’s and Representative Heck’s time, concern, and dedication to this matter and to serving our nations’ veterans. “

In addition to the (VAPAA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015 is supported by the following veterans and physician assistant organizations:

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)

Naval Association of Physician Assistants (NAPA)

Blinded Veterans of America (BVA)

National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS)

The Retired Enlisted Association

American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

Since taking office, Kuster has spoken out about the need to eliminate the VA benefit claims backlog. Last year, she announced a legislative package to help the VA meet its goal of eliminating the backlog in full by 2015. Kuster also joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in urging President Obama to help end the back and forth between the VA and Department of Defense over incompatible electronic medical record systems. Kuster also continues to hold a series of job fairs in the district, which she encourages veterans who are transitioning to civilian life to use as a resource, and she helped introduce legislation to help provide veterans with the job skills they need to succeed. Additionally, her legislation to increase contracting opportunities for veterans passed the Small Business Committee, and she helped introduce legislation to better recognize skill training for veterans transitioning back to the workplace.

The Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015 is the latest in a series of legislative priorities advanced by Rep. Heck to improve quality of life for our nation's veterans. In May, the House passed H.R. 1816, the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act of 2015, legislation introduced by Congressman Heck that will reduce veteran homelessness by ending the flawed Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policy of counting the aid and attendance benefit for low-income, disabled veterans as regular income.

In 2014, Rep. Heck introduced the VA Credentialing and Privileging Improvement Act, which required the Department of Veterans Affairs to accept the credentials of Department of Defense physicians and expedite the granting of clinical privileges. This credentialing proposal was rolled into the VA's national recruitment effort by VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster represents New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District in the House of Representatives. She serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where she is Ranking Member on the Subcommittee for Oversight and Investigation, and the House Committee on Agriculture.

Congressman Joe Heck represents Nevada's Third Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.