White House Seeks to Ease Veterans’ Access to Care
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS NOV. 11, 2015
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday will call on Congress to enact measures to help military veterans gain easier access to health care, disability and educational benefits, part of a push to spotlight its efforts to improve the way the government treats veterans after ascandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
President Obama will urge Congress to improve a program that allows veterans to receive private medical care, speed the appeal process for disability claims and pass legislation aiming to improve the quality of schools that serve veterans. Timed to coincide with Veterans Day, Mr. Obama’s proposals also come as the administration is promoting the first fruits of its efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans, with Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia set to announce that his state has become the first to end veteran homelessness.
The cities of Las Vegas; Syracuse; and Schenectady, N.Y., will also announce that they have ended veteran homelessness, the White House said.
The administration laid out a plan in 2010 to end chronic homelessness among veterans by the end of this year, saying that goal would be reached when there were no veterans sleeping on streets and no more than 12,500 veterans in shelters or transitional housing. In August, Connecticut became the first state to be designated by the administration as having achieved the milestone.
The Obama administration is also set to unveil a new tool to allow veterans to compare college and university options, modeled after a college scorecard website it started in September to provide information to prospective students and their parents about annual costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation.
It will also announce that all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will provide “recently transitioning veterans” and their dependents with in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, in line with a provision in the $16 billion overhaul of theDepartment of Veterans Affairs passed by Congress last year after the scandal.
The moves reflect the degree to which Mr. Obama is still fine-tuning that law, including provisions that allow veterans to use private doctors at the government’s expense if they cannot get an appointment with a Department of Veterans Affairs physician within 30 days. The White House said that 7 percent more veterans have been able to use that option over the past year, but that the program needs improvements. The agency sent Congress a plan to do so earlier this month.
Mr. Obama will also call for speeding what the White House called a broken appeals process for disability claims. Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs administrator responsible for reducing the huge backlog of veterans benefits resigned after questions were raised about the agency’s assertions that it had drastically reduced the number of pending claims.
The steps come as the administration works to recover from the scandal of backlogs and wait times that last year caused the resignation of Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and the early retirement of the agency’s under secretary for health, Dr. Robert A. Petzel.