EAST MOLINE —A bill to open the way for veterans to be referred to their hometown doctors' care passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now headed for the U.S. Senate. The Veterans Access to Care Act, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida), was first initiated by former Congressman Bobby Schilling in the last Congress. The bill passed the House of Representatives 426-0 Tuesday.
"Today is a great day for veterans across this great nation, but there is still much work to do," Schilling said Thursday. "I'm thrilled that my friend, Congressman Jeff Miller, was able to get this bill through the House. This is a monumental step for veterans in this country who have been needlessly burdened with waitlists and backlogs from the VA for far too long."
Schilling authored and introduced in 2011 the Enhanced Veterans Health Care Experience Act, which would have allowed veterans the ability to use their own doctors in their own hometowns when VA wait lists prevent veterans from getting immediate access to care. Enacting the provisions of the Schilling bill into law would provide a major safety valve by eliminating a great deal of the problems veterans have faced in recent years.
The Veterans Access to Care Act is designed to begin the lengthy process of reforming the Veterans Administration and solving the waitlist crisis that has affected tens of thousands of veterans across the United States, including 40 veterans who died because of being fatally waitlisted at an Arizona VA Hospital.
But passing the U.S. House - even though nearly unanimously - is only the beginning. Dozens and dozens of House bills have stalled in the U.S. Senate.
"This is only the first step. The Senate must pass this bill and President Obama must sign this into law," Schilling said in a statement. "And there are still additional reforms we need to pass to improve our veterans access to health care."
Schilling said that he recognized the problems in the Veterans Administration three years ago. After the problems his own father had with the Veterans Administration, Schilling came up with a creative way to help solve it without expanding government bureaucracy.
Schilling is running to regain his congressional seat in 2014, hoping to oust Congresswoman Cheri Bustos.
Jon Schweppe, communications director at Bobby Schilling for Congress, said Schilling's idea on the VA health care dilemma is another example of his leadership.
"Bobby Schilling took the lead on veterans issues back in 2011 when he introduced his bill that would allow veterans access to their own doctors in their own hometowns. Bobby Schilling called for reform before it was popular and poll-tested. Bobby Schilling also called for Secretary Shinseki's resignation immediately—Cheri Bustos waited for polling results and approval from Washington, D.C."
The Senate version of the bill, introduced by John McCain (R-Arizona) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), also contains Schilling's language granting veterans access to non-VA facilities.