Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House without amendment (12/11/2001)

Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001 - Title I: Enhancement of Nurse Recruitment and Retention Authorities - Subtitle A: Recruitment Authorities - Revises the Department of Veterans Affairs (Department) employee incentive scholarship program to: (1) repeal a provision requiring commencement of program participation prior to December 31, 2001; (2) reduce from two years to one the required period of continuous Department employment for program participation; (3) revise scholarship amounts; and (4) increase from three to six the number of school years for which a scholarship may be paid while limiting the total payment to the cost of three years of full-time course work.

(Sec. 102) Repeals a provision terminating on December 31, 2001, the education debt reduction program. Increases the maximum debt reduction amount under such program and allows the annual adjustment of such amount. Allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, until June 30, 2002, to expand the number of individuals eligible under such program.

(Sec. 103) Requires a report from the Secretary to the congressional veterans' committees and the National Commission on VA Nursing (established under this Act) on the use of the authority to request waivers of pay reductions for reemployed annuitants in order to meet requirements for appointments to nurse positions.

Subtitle B: Retention Authorities - Authorizes additional pay for Saturday duty for health care professionals in the Department's Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

(Sec. 122) Allows unused sick leave to be included in the annuity computation for VHA registered nurses.

(Sec. 123) Directs the Secretary to: (1) evaluate the efficacy of the Department's nurse managed health care clinics; (2) establish a nationwide policy on the staffing of Department medical facilities; (3) report on the use of authorities for retaining experienced nurses; and (4) report on mandatory overtime required of licensed nurses and nurse assistants providing direct patient care.

Subtitle C: Other Authorities - Requires the Department's Director of Nursing Service to report directly to the Under Secretary for Health.

(Sec. 132) Makes Federal annuity computation provisions inapplicable to the part-time service before April 7, 1986, of a Department registered nurse, physician assistant, or expanded-function dental auxiliary, instead requiring such service to be credited as full-time service.

Subtitle D: National Commission on VA Nursing - Establishes in the Department the National Commission on VA Nursing to: (1) consider and recommend legislative and organizational policy changes to enhance the Department's recruitment and retention of nurses and other nursing personnel; and (2) assess the future of the Department's nursing profession. Requires a report from the Commission to Congress and the Secretary and from the Secretary to Congress concerning such recommendations. Terminates the Commission 90 days after its report.

Title II: Other Matters - Authorizes the Secretary to provide: (1) service dogs to veterans enrolled in the veterans' patient enrollment system who are hearing impaired or have a spinal cord injury or dysfunction; and (2) related travel and incidental expenses.

(Sec. 202) Adds as a basis for determining a veteran's inability to defray expenses of necessary medical care whether the veteran is eligible for treatment as a low-income family under provisions of the United States Housing Act of 1937. Reduces by 80 percent the required copayments for low-income veterans enrolled in the veterans' patient enrollment system.

(Sec. 203) Provides the basis for maintenance of the Department's capacity to provide for the specialized treatment and rehabilitative needs of disabled veterans who: (1) are seriously mentally ill; or (2) have spinal cord dysfunction, traumatic brain injury, blindness, or prosthetics and sensory aids. Requires each geographic service area of the VHA to maintain such capacity. Extends through 2004 requirements for reports on the maintenance of such capacity.

(Sec. 204) Directs the Secretary to: (1) carry out, through Department medical centers and clinics, a program to provide chiropractic care and services to veterans enrolled in the veterans' patient enrollment system; and (2) establish an advisory committee to provide direct assistance and advice in such program's development and implementation.

(Sec. 205) Requires amounts for activities of the field offices of the Department's Office of Research Compliance and Assurance to be derived from amounts appropriated for the VHA for Medical Care, rather than amounts appropriated for the VHA for Medical and Prosthetic Research.

(Sec. 206) Authorizes the Secretary to carry out a major medical facility project for the renovation from electrical fire of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Miami, Florida. Authorizes appropriations.

(Sec. 207) Expresses the sense of Congress that the Secretary should conduct an assessment of all special telephone services for veterans that are provided by the Department.

(Sec. 208) Directs the Secretary to provide consultation, counseling, training, and mental health services to family members in connection with a veteran receiving treatment for a service-connected disability and authorizes the Secretary to provide such services in connection with a veteran receiving treatment for a non-service-connected disability. Authorizes related travel and transportation expenses.

Authorizes the Secretary to provide: (1) bereavement counseling to family members of veterans who die in the line of duty or veterans who were participating in a hospice program; and (2) humanitarian hospital or medical care in emergency cases (for a charge).

Extends through FY 2007 the Secretary's authority to charge certain medical care copayments.

(Sec. 210) Directs the Secretary to: (1) evaluate and study the feasibility and desirability of providing a personal emergency response system to veterans who have service-connected disabilities; (2) report study results to the veterans' committees; and (3) implement such a system if found feasible and desirable.

(Sec. 211) Extends through December 31, 2002, the eligibility for Department hospital and nursing home care and medical services for veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War.