SAN ANTONIO — The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) voiced their support of a Veterans Administration (VA) bill that would standardize full practice authority for nurse practitioners (NPs) throughout the VA healthcare system. AANP partnered with San Antonio veteran groups for a press conference at the AANP 2016 National Conference.

“Today, veterans needlessly wait far too long to receive the health care they deserve,” said Cindy Cooke, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, President of the AANP. “The US Department of Veterans Affairs has put forward a solid plan to adopt a 21st century approach to healthcare delivery that will address that need.”

The proposed bill aims to standardize the level of care that NPs are able to provide at VA facilities throughout the country, providing veterans with access to the highest level of NP-provided care, as well as reduced wait times and increased healthcare flexibility. Currently, NPs are able to practice at the highest level in 21 states, plus the District of Columbia.

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According to Dr Cooke, more than 7000 veterans regularly wait up to 30 days to receive care; more than 4800 must wait between 31 and 60 days.

“The model put forward [by the VA] is backed by decades of research … as well as recommendations by leading scientific policy organizations, including the Institute of Medicine and the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing,” Dr Cooke said.

“I know the political hurdles that the association is going to face,” said Roberto E. De La Garza, Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, Retired, and former member of the Texas House of Representatives. “I believe firmly that we should have a healthcare system that is available to all veterans.”

Dr Alicia Rossiter, DNP, ARNP, PNP-BC, FNP, FAANP, Lieutenant Colonel Retired, United States Air Force and Program Director of the University of South Florida V-CARE, also voiced her support.

“The VA has an access problem; 80% of veterans are not being seen in the VA. They’re being seen in the civilian sector due to these access problems. We need to bring these veterans back to the VA to be cared for by healthcare providers – NPs, CRNAs, physicians, PAs – where they can get culturally competent care by individuals who know about service-connected diseases, risk factors, comorbidities secondary to military service,” said Dr Rossiter. “We need to bring them back in so that they can receive this care by providers who are aware of their unique healthcare needs.”

Enrique Martin, a US Air Force veteran of Desert Storm, summarized his view on the bill, saying, “No veteran should have to wait for health care. Period.”

Other advocates of the bill include Elizabeth Barker, US Navy Captain, Retired, RN-CS, FNP, PhD, ACHE, and Jimmie O. Keenan, Major General, Retired, 24th Corps Chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

“It’s frustrating on a professional level to not be able to access your patients,” said Dr Barker. “This proposal that the VA has put in is superb. We are prepared for high-quality care. We have over 50 years of research that demonstrates that the care of NPs has outcomes that are equal or better to our physician colleagues.”

“It is not a ‘we versus them,’” added Major General Keenan. “It is a ‘we all’ supporting our veterans to make sure they get the care they deserve.”

“It’s time to make this care directly and more readily accessible to our nation’s veterans,” said Dr Cooke, “and to open access to care for our veterans in our nation’s veterans healthcare system.”

The bill was opened to public comment on May 25, 2016. After a 60-day period, the VA will make its decision on whether to pass the bill, taking these public comments into account.

Click here to read our ongoing coverage of AANP 2016.