An Ohio congressman wants to force all Capitol Hill lawmakers and their staff to receive health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure they have incentive to improve the system.
But the top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee is blasting the idea as little more than a publicity stunt.
On Tuesday, Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, introduced his "Lead by Example" act, which would require all members of Congress and several thousand staffers to enroll in VA medical care "instead of under the Federal Health Benefits Program or other health care exchanges."
"Providing our veterans with the highest quality care is a bipartisan issue, one which nearly all the presidential candidates ran on," he said in a statement. "Overhauling the VA is no easy task and will require consistent and intentional Congressional oversight for years to come. My bill will ensure members of Congress have stakes in improving the failing program."
He also co-authored an editorial with Fox News contributor and veterans advocate Pete Hegseth on the issue in Tuesday's National Review, noting that "once members of Congress have to wait months for routine checkups or common surgical procedures, I'm guessing it won't take long for them to see the desperate need to fix the problem."
About 9 million veterans receive VA health care services each year.
VA officials have said that more than 90 percent of veterans seeking care this year have been able to schedule an appointment within 30 days.The average wait time across the system as of May was fewer than seven days for primary care and fewer than five days for mental health appointments.
But department data released this summer showed more than 600,000 patients still faced appointment wait times of more than a month, an ongoing problem for officials still trying to rebuild trust after widespread appointment wait time scandals in early 2014.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and acting ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, mocked Davidson’s proposal as ill-informed and impractical.
"The VA health care system is specifically designed to treat the unique physical and mental health conditions that veterans face," he said in a statement. "Any suggestion that it is interchangeable with private health care reflects a failure to appreciate why VA care is so critical to veterans."
"The VA health care system has critical challenges to solve. … Political messaging bills like this do nothing to support a solution."
No hearings or votes have been scheduled on the legislation.
Currently, 100 members of Congress are veterans and are eligible for some VA health care services. Follow @LeoShane
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.