VA must train employees on abortion rules to provide proper care and safety, House Democrats say

VA must train employees on abortion rules to provide proper care and safety, House Democrats say

Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, meets with veterans and advocates Sept. 28, 2022, before they march to the Capitol to rally for care rights reproductive health care for veterans and military service members. Takano and Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., (not pictured) chair of the House VA Subcommittee on Health and Women Veterans Task Force, visited six VA medical centers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Nevada between August 8 and September 8. 8. (Sara Samora/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs should train all employees to implement the agency’s new abortion guidelines to ensure female veterans receive proper health care and safety, according to a new report from the US. Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“More than 2 million living female veterans have fought and defended the founding principle of our country: freedom,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “That’s why they served, and that’s why they continue to serve in greater numbers than ever before. There is no doubt that female veterans deserve our nation’s gratitude and appreciation, but more importantly , they deserve to have access to comprehensive health care and the benefits they have earned, including reproductive health care.

The report, which was released on Monday, includes the results of site visits between August 8 and September 8 to VA medical centers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Nevada by Takano and Representative Julia Brownley, D-Calif., chair of the House VA Subcommittee on Health and the Women Veterans Task Force.

Committee Democrats chose VA medical facilities because they are in states with varying access to abortions. Oklahoma and Texas were among states that banned or severely restricted access to abortion services following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, who had guaranteed a federal right to abortion for nearly 50 years.

Yet in September, the VA issued a regulation authorizing all of its medical facilities to provide veterans and recipients of childbearing age with access to abortion counseling and procedure in special cases such as rape. , incest and if the veteran’s life is in danger.

Additionally, VA Secretary Denis McDonough told lawmakers during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in September that the VA sought and received an opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. indicating that the VA’s policy on access to reproductive health services is a legal exercise. of agency authority.

States cannot impose criminal or civil liability on VA employees, including physicians, nurses, or administrative personnel, who provide or facilitate abortions or related services in a manner authorized by federal law, under the opinion of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

However, during visits by legislators, the House VA committee and staff members found that some VA officers and employees were not properly briefed on existing VA policies regarding reproductive health care, such as the directive on VA maternity care.

The report also found that some VA leaders and staff could not answer questions about abortion care.

According to the report, some clinical staff said they were concerned and feared they were not protected from having their licenses revoked or suspended, which could ban or limit them from practicing in their state. respective and be included in their licensing records. They also had concerns about whether the AV would defend them in civil or criminal lawsuits related to providing abortions to veterans. Additionally, VA staff told committee members that there was a strong demand for more detailed, state-specific guidance from the VA’s central office in Washington, DC.

Democrats on the committee recommended that the AV distribute guidance to clinical employees who provide abortion care about their protections. They also recommend that the VA communicate with employees involved in providing abortion services about how they will be protected from licensure or law enforcement actions.

In June, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said federal employees who perform abortions as part of their federal employment would not violate the Assimilative Crimes Act, a law that allows the law of State to apply to conduct that occurs on federal land or property when the act or omission is not punishable under federal law.

However, overlapping federal and state laws have made law enforcement status unclear, and VA medical facilities are unsure how employees or veterans might be targeted by local or state authorities wishing to enforce the laws. of the state on abortion, according to the report. State and local law enforcement are permitted on VA property with a lawful arrest warrant under the Assimilation Crimes Act.

VA police chiefs said they believe local law enforcement is unlikely to show up unannounced to make arrests, according to the report.

House committee Democrats recommended that the VA’s Office of the General Counsel establish an inventory of the status of law enforcement authorities at each VA medical facility and adapt to laws on the state abortion and agreements with state and local law enforcement.

“Given the rapidly changing legal landscape, the [VA] should proactively create a centralized repository of information that will help it prepare for any attempt to enforce state criminal or civil sanctions against VA patients, employees, or visitors,” according to the report.

“Since the release of the interim rule in September, the VA healthcare team has worked hard on the implementation to ensure the health and safety of pregnant veterans,” the VA said in a prepared statement. . “The [VA] received the report of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs of the [Democratic] Personal.”

In August, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee announced that it had launched a new initiative to focus on reproductive health care for veterans. Brownley leads the initiative.

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