WASHINGTON, DC – Following the misconduct and leadership failings found at the John D. Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Detroit, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure neutrality and accountability in the VA’s peer review process – which is used to improve quality of care at VA medical facilities in Michigan and across the country.
In November 2021, the VA Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) investigated allegations regarding the quality of care at the Detroit VA Medical Center. In April 2022, the OMI released its findings that resulted in 10 recommendations, including to ensure quality reviews. In response to a congressional request from Peters, along with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI) and U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell (MI-6) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) opened an inspection to assess the facility’s progress implementing the OMI’s recommendations. During the inspection, the OIG identified additional concerns that the facility still needed to resolve regarding the peer review process of Peer Review Committee members.
Peters’ VA Peer Review Neutrality Act – cosponsored by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Boozman (R-AR) – would help address these concerns and ensure the process is conducted effectively by requiring that peer reviewers must withdraw from the review process if they had direct involvement in the case in question or there is a conflict of interest. Peters’ bill would also require that peer reviews of Peer Review Committee members – which are responsible for investigating complaints or concerns about quality of care – must be evaluated at a final level by a neutral peer review committee at another VA facility. The bill would additionally require the VA to ensure a plan is in place to fill vacant medical center director positions within 180 days.
“I was appalled to learn of the misconduct and blatant failure from leadership at the Detroit VA Medical Center. Our nation’s veterans deserve nothing but the best quality health care and support,” said Senator Peters, a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and member of the Armed Services Committee. “I’m leading this bipartisan bill to make sure something like this never, ever happens again by putting in place commonsense measures to ensure VA peer reviews are conducted impartially and by the book.”
“A strong, viable veterans’ health care system is part of keeping our promise to those who served,” said Disabled American Veterans National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “It is critical for the VA to eliminate conflicts of interest when conducting quality management and administrative investigations and limit the detail of directors at its medical centers. DAV thanks Sens. Gary Peters and John Boozman for introducing the Veterans Affairs Peer Review Neutrality Act of 2023 and supports this legislation, which ensures that systems are put in place to maintain timely, high-quality service delivery of veterans’ health care.”
“The Project On Government Oversight is proud to endorse the Veterans Affairs Peer Review Neutrality Act,” said Geoff Wilson, Director of the Center for Defense Information, Project On Government Oversight. “The veterans of this nation deserve higher standards of accountability when it comes to their healthcare, and we commend Senator Peters and Senator Boozman’s efforts to ensure that the VA eliminates conflicts of interest from its medical boards and develops better internal oversight mechanisms. We are confident this bill will bring more independence to the peer review process, provide better protection against substandard levels of care, and ensure that veterans are getting the treatment they deserve.”
Peters’ VA Peer Review Neutrality Act is also supported by the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
The peer review process is employed to improve quality of care in VA medical facilities. Currently, the peer review process consists of an initial review conducted by an individual peer reviewer followed by an evaluation and discussion of their assessment of care conducted by the broader Peer Review Committee.
Peters’ VA Peer Review Neutrality Act would:
This effort comes after Peters previously called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General in September 2022 into the serious allegations of misconduct by management at the Detroit VA Medical Center, including attempts to prevent discovery of the misconduct and manipulation of the quality assurance process. Peters then urged VA Secretary Denis McDonough in March 2023 to install a permanent director at the Center as soon as possible to enable “the type of systemic, cultural change needed at the facility” through long-term leadership and stability. Peters again raised this request with Secretary McDonough in April during a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. During the hearing, Peters also invited Secretary McDonough to visit the Detroit VA Medical Center, to which the Secretary agreed.
Peters continues to be a strong advocate for Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. In 2021, Peters was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor for his efforts to support our nation’s veterans and military. In 2017, Peters was recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America for authoring the bipartisan Fairness for Veterans Act, which was signed into law. The legislation requires veteran discharge review boards to give liberal consideration to petitions for honorable discharge status if the servicemember has been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or other related conditions connected to their military service. As of the fall of 2020, more than 1,500 veterans have had their discharges upgraded since his legislation was enacted.
Peters passed into law bipartisan legislation to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the VA’s caregiver program. His bipartisan legislation to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans and allow them to use their GI bill benefits to secure a registered apprenticeship was signed into law in 2020. Peters also fought for and helped secure a measure in the national defense bill to expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.