AAFP Urges Quick Action on Veterans Health Legislation

Access to Civilian Family Physicians Could End Long Waits for Care

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


WASHINGTON — Congressional conference committee members should produce legislation that enables veterans to see civilian physicians for their primary care needs while continuing to receive necessary subspecialist, pharmacy and diagnostic services from Veterans Administration.

That was the message from Jeff Cain, MD, chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors, in a letter to the chair and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate conference committee convened to work out legislation to address the VA health care crisis.

Cain cited reports that a shortage of VA-employed primary care physicians is a major cause of excessive delays in getting care and urged conferees to “promptly produce compromise legislation that will prevent veterans from experiencing any further delays in receiving care from the Veterans Health Administration.” The AAFP recommended that the conference committee legislation:

  • Grant authority to the VA to contract with civilian family physicians to provide primary care services to eligible veterans. 
  • Compensate civilian primary care physicians in the same manner as Medicare and provide a 20 percent incentive to civilian primary care physicians to immediately address the VA’s access-to-care crisis.
  • Mandate that VA facilities accept all referrals, including for specialist services, medication prescriptions and diagnostic tests ordered by civilian physicians who contract with the VA.

“While these policy recommendations are not a panacea to all the challenges facing the VA health system, they do represent an opportunity to quickly alleviate the current backlog and facilitate access to primary care services for thousands of veterans,” Cain wrote.

He applauded the Senate and House for passing separate versions of legislation to ensure veterans’ access to health care. “These bills address serious challenges that our nation’s veterans face in securing access to health care services,” he said in his letter. “We also commend the speed with which Congress has appointed the conference committee.”

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of legislation that would enable veterans to see non-VA primary care physicians — the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2450) and the Veteran Access to Care Act (H.R. 4810). However, differences in the two bills require a conference committee representing both chambers to work on compromise legislation that would pass the House and the Senate.



Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

To learn more about the AAFP and family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. Follow us on Twitter,(twitter.com) and like us on Facebook. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(familydoctor.org).