Newhouse Veterans Amendment Adopted, Passed by House in VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act
WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), voted in favor of H.R. 5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act, which included an amendment he offered to ensure America’s veterans are guaranteed access to emergency care at all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. Rep. Newhouse’s amendment language is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans. H.R. 5620 strengthens whistleblower protections, reforms the VA’s disability benefits appeals process, and provides additional authority to the VA Secretary to reprimand employees for performance or misconduct.
“Supporting and caring for our veterans should priority number one for the Veterans Administration, and the cases we have seen – such as the mistreatment of a retired Army veteran from Kennewick – where the VA failed to provide emergency care should never happen again,” said Rep. Newhouse. “My amendment ensures that emergency treatment requirements are consistently applied to VA hospitals so that there is no excuse to furnish the highest standard of care.”
Thank you, Mr. Speaker:
I believe one of the federal government’s most important functions is to support those who have sacrificed so much in the defense of our nation. Whenever our government fails to meet this responsibility, swift action must be taken. We have heard far too many distressing stories in recent years about the Department of Veterans Affairs failing to provide our veterans with the care they deserve. My amendment seeks to address one of these problems by adding the text of H.R. 3216, the Veterans Emergency Treatment Act to this bill. This language is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans.
In short, my amendment would ensure that every enrolled veteran who arrives at the emergency department of a VA medical facility and indicates an emergency condition exists, is assessed and treated in an effort to prevent further injury or death. This is accomplished by applying the statutory requirements of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) to emergency care furnished by the VA to enrolled veterans.
Mr. Speaker, my attention was first drawn to this issue by one of my constituents. In February of 2015, a 64-year-old Army veteran arrived at the Seattle VA emergency room in severe pain with a broken foot that had swollen to the size of a football. No longer able to walk, he requested emergency room staff assist him in traveling the ten feet from his car to the ER entrance. Hospital personnel promptly hung up on him after instructing him that he would need to call 911 to assist him at his own expense. He was eventually helped into the emergency room by a Seattle fire captain as well as three firefighters.
Another notable incident occurred in New Mexico in 2014, when a veteran collapsed in the cafeteria of a VA facility and ultimately died when the VA refused to transport him 500 yards across the campus to the emergency room.
EMTALA is a federal statute that supersedes state and local laws and grants every individual a federal right to emergency care. It was enacted by Congress in 1986 and is designed to prevent hospitals from transferring, or “dumping”, uninsured or Medicaid patients to public hospitals. EMTALA requires a hospital to conduct a medical examination to determine if an emergency medical condition exists. If one does then the hospital must either stabilize the patient or effectuate a proper transfer at the patient’s request. Currently, VA hospitals are considered to be “non-participating” hospitals and are therefore not obligated to fulfill the requirements instituted by EMTALA. This amendment will revise current law to remove the “non-participating” designation and require them to fulfill requirements of EMTALA, just as every other hospital does.
Mr. Speaker, it is actually the Veterans Health Administration’s stated policy that all transfers in and out of VA facilities of patients in the Emergency Department or Urgent Care Units are accomplished in a manner that ensures maximum patient safety and is in compliance with the transfer provisions of EMTALA and its implementing regulations.
However, unfortunately this policy is not always followed, and occasionally locally-designed transfer policies at VA facilities undermine efforts to provide emergency care to veterans. Additionally, in some of these instances, there was clear confusion on the part of the VA facilities about their own transfer policies. This is why we must now act now.
Mr. Speaker, I urge the House to support and pass my amendment to H.R. 5620. It is time we ensure our veterans receive proper medical care during emergency medical situations – all without requiring additional spending.
In June, Rep. Newhouse testified at a House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ hearing on legislation he introduced, H.R. 3216, the Veterans Emergency Treatment (VET) Act. Rep. Newhouse’s legislation would require that every enrolled veteran is afforded the highest level of emergency care at every emergency-capable medical facility under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The VET Act would apply the statutory requirements of the Emergency Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) to emergency care furnished by the VA to enrolled veterans who arrive at the emergency department of a VA medical facility and indicate an emergency condition exists. The amendment Rep. Newhouse offered to H.R. 5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act, is identical to H.R. 3216.
Highlights of Newhouse Amendment to H.R. 5620
The Emergency Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) was enacted by Congress in 1986 and is designed to prevent hospitals from transferring, or “dumping”, uninsured patients at public hospitals. While a 2007 Veterans Health Administration (VA) directive indicates that the VA complies with the intent of the EMTALA requirements, VA hospitals are considered to be “non-participating” hospitals and are therefore not obligated to fulfill EMTALA requirements. The VET Act would create similar EMTALA requirements for veterans visiting VA hospitals.
Rep. Newhouse’s amendment to H.R. 5620 requires:
- A VA hospital to conduct a medical examination of an enrolled veteran to determine if an emergency medical condition exists
- If such condition exists, the VA hospital must either stabilize the patient or comply with the statutory requirements of a proper transfer
- If an emergency medical condition exists and has not been stabilized, the hospital may not transfer the patient unless the patient, after being made aware of the risks, makes a transfer request in writing or a physician certifies that the medical benefits of a transfer outweigh the risks.