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VA looks to have nurses take on doctor duties to cut wait times

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Thousands of nurses could take on duties doctors typically perform at VA hospitals around the country. It’s a proposal the VA is looking to have in place to alleviate some of its notorious and controversial wait times.

The department has proposed a rule change, allowing advanced practice nurses to prescribe medications, do diagnostic testing, and in some cases, even administer anesthesia, all with hopes more vets will be seen and the notoriously long lines for care will downsize.

Public comments on the proposal are pouring in. Many comments reflect fear that the change would reduce the quality of veteran care.

“As the family member of a Veteran, I know the incredible sacrifices America's servicemen and women made for our country... I urge VA to preserve the high-quality, physician-led anesthesia care that our nation's Veterans currently receive,” read one comment.

“I oppose any policy that would lead to the removal of physicians practicing anesthesia in the operating rooms of American heroes,” read another.

“The concerns and the fears are really misplaced,” said Blayne Miley, the Director of Policy for the Indiana State Nurses Association.

Organizations like the Indiana State Nurses Association argue advanced practice nurses are highly trained and specialized. When it comes to taking care of veterans, nurses Miley says are more than capable.

“It’s not necessarily about adding responsibilities as it is allowing the advanced practice nurses or potentially nurses of all levels to practice to the extent that they are educated and trained to practice,” he said.

In fact, many advanced practice nurses in Indiana already perform the duties the VA is looking to have advanced practice nurses take on.

“This proposed rule from the VA is going to increase the efficiency that all of the healthcare providers of all levels, physicians, nurses, all across the board within the VA can operate,” said Miley.

Any proposed rule change for the VA requires a public comment period. The period for this change expires on July 25. If you’d like to weigh in, you can comment on the proposal here.

FOX59 received the following statements regarding the VA's proposal:

“Senator Coats is studying this issue and receiving feedback from Hoosiers.” – Matt Lahr, Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Dan Coats

“It is clear to Senator Donnelly that the VA needs to do more to reduce wait times and provide safe, quality care for our veterans. Senator Donnelly will continue to review this proposed rule with those priorities in mind.” – Michael Campbell, Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly

“As it stands right now it’s too early for us to have an official stance on this issue. We do believe the VA is a system worth saving, and we work closely with our counterparts at the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs to improve quality of service to our Hoosier veterans. We will provide more as The American Legion continues to monitor the situation.” – American Legion Department of Indiana, Communications Office