Late Breaking News
Legislation Pushes VA to Develop Sexual Assault Tracking System More Quickly Cont.
VA Finds Flaws in the Bill
According to VA, the agency is already well on its way to meeting the goals laid out in HR 2074. A VA workgroup is developing interventions to reduce the risk of sexual assault, with a final report expected by Sept. 30. The department also is testing a computerized reporting system for ongoing data-tracking.
“I think where we failed in this matter is that we have multiple reporting mechanisms,” Robert Jesse, MD, PhD, VA’s principal deputy under secretary for health, told the subcommittee. “We had reporting mechanisms that were coming up through the police side. Then we had administrative reports coming up through the VHA side in the forms of issue briefs. And there was a failure on our part to reconcile the two, to make sure that everything that was coming up through issue briefs was matched with everything coming up through the police, and vice versa.”
In order to do that, VA is taking what was largely a paper process and computerizing it. “We think we have a system that’s workable, but, as usual, we have a million scenarios to run through to make sure it’s workable,” Jesse said. “VA is committed to enhancing our safety and security policies, but we do need time to pilot these initiatives before we fully implement them. We believe we can have an operational system by the end of the year. And, while we recognize the urgency of the actions, we do not want to rush and settle for what may be a second-best solution.”
Buerkle argued that VA should already be well on its way to solving the problem. “Time is of the essence,” she said. “We don’t have time for pilots and testing when this has been going on for three years.”
Another aspect of the bill that concerns Jesse is one requiring that VA report alcohol or substance abuse-related acts committed by veterans. “VA is an integrated healthcare network,” he said. “We treat all of the healthcare needs of the veteran, including substance-use disorders and alcoholism. Reporting and tracking these events may deter veterans from seeking care, and we do not want to create a potential disincentive for the veterans to seek treatment. We recommend that this provision be deleted.”
Buerkle did not seem convinced that the provision did not have a place in the legislation. “I would argue that the levels of illness that patients have in the VA system would raise the bar for the VA system,” she said. “Sexual assault is sexual assault. And it only means that the VA system has to work harder, be more effective, and be more aware of what’s going on in its facilities.”
The bill was marked up by the subcommittee and forwarded to the full committee, which is scheduled to meet this month to discuss pending legislation.