On September 14, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 (H.R. 5620), which amends U.S. Code Title 38 “to provide for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) based on performance or misconduct, and for other purposes.” This bill comes after years of controversy and a nation-wide VA Access Audit uncovering fraudulent efforts by VA employees that masked the inconsistent deployment of the maximum 14-day wait time for veterans to receive medical treatment.
Given that the 114th Congress will recess shortly until after the November election, the House fast-tracked this VA reform effort by adopting House Resolution 859 (H.Res. 859), which sets forth the procedural rule “to permit the immediate consideration of a legislative measure, notwithstanding the usual order of business, and to prescribe conditions for its debate and amendment.” The House Committee on Rules passed this measure and prepared a Committee Report (H. Rept. 114-742) with amendments to H.R. 5620. One such amendment, proposed by Representative Schweikert (R-AZ), requires VA facilities to use distributed ledger technology for scheduling veterans’ healthcare appointments. The amendment highlights one of the most beneficial features of distributed ledger technology – the ability to provide increased transparency and accountability:
Use of Distributed Ledger Technology to Schedule Appointments:
- In general.--Beginning not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall ensure that veterans seeking health care appointments at medical facilities of the Department are able to use an Internet website, a mobile application, or other similar electronic method to use distributed ledger technology to view such appointments and ascertain whether an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs has modified such appointments.
- Contracts.--The Secretary shall carry out paragraph (1) by seeking to enter into one or more contracts with appropriate entities to develop the appointment distributed ledger technology system described in such paragraph.
While the amendment does not include specific procedures for implementation and has yet to be debated or passed, the fact that it has been proposed signals Congressional acknowledgement of the widespread impact distributed ledger technology can have on the delivery of government services. According to a report issued by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), inadequate systemic issues, such as inconsistent scheduling of medical appointments at VA medical centers, have been linked to premature and preventable veteran deaths. Implementing a distributed ledger-based scheduling system would bring transparency to an intricate scheduling system and make accountable those employees who continue to engage in fraudulent scheduling practices. Hopefully, the amendment will be brought to a full House debate and vote when Congress returns after the presidential election.