Lawmakers pass bill allowing veterans to seek private health care

Lawmakers pass bill allowing veterans to seek private health care

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation that would give veterans access to private care.

The action comes two days after a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs that showed Hawaii veterans waited the longest in the country for a first appointment with a primary care doctor.  The average wait, according to the report, 145 days.

A spokeswoman for VA Pacific Health System believes those numbers are outdated.  Patricia Teran-Matthews says they have made significant progress in the last eight months since a new director started.  But Matthews admits, there is a problem and veterans are waiting too long.

The Senate measure allows vets access to private care if they cannot get an appointment within the goal wait time.  It also allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to open more clinics and hire more medical staff.

Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz co-sponsored the bill.

"This bill gets the VA additional resources for more doctors and nurses to match the growing demand for health care services and will make way for a major new VA medical facility on Oahu that will double VA clinical services on the island," says Senator Schatz.

The 93-3 vote in the U.S. Senate followed unanimous passage of a similar bill in U.S. House.

Lawmakers will work on both versions before voting on a final package which could then be signed into law by the President.