Lawmakers demand more progress from V.A.

2 NEWS Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (WDTN) – Lawmakers in Washington say the V.A. continues to fail when it comes to addressing veteran suicides and mental health issues.

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re taking steps to improve access to healthcare.

Secretary Robert Wilkie announced a new initiative to accelerate disability benefit claims for Purple Heart recipients.

But concerns remain about the healthcare of veterans, including suicide rates, which are nearly 50 percent higher than civilians.

Lawmakers worry a shortage of staff at the V.A. is slowing mental health care and treatment.

Wilkie says in addition to hiring more staff, the agency is expanding telehealth options.

The V.A. is proposing rule changes to allow veterans to receive private care if they have to drive 30 minutes or more to a V.A. facility or wait more than 20 days for an appointment.

Critics worry the proposed changes could lead to privatization and drain money from the V.A., but Wilkie says the plan promotes flexibility.

“Allow the veteran to choose, if we don’t have the service to keep him healthy, the opportunity to go to the private sector…” he said.

Veterans can also weigh in on the V.A.’s efforts to expand access to private doctors.

The public comment period is open until March 25.

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