Vets privacy bill needs clarification

The Veterans’ Privacy Act (H.R. 1490) was one of three pieces of legislation discussed at a June 19 hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The bill, introduced on April 11 by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., seeks to help protect the privacy of patients at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities. The bill would ensure that, in the absence of informed consent by the patient or their legal representative, any visual recording can only be conducted under limited circumstances such as under court order.

Dr. Robert L. Jesse of the Veterans Health Administration testified that VA supports the overall intent of the Veteran’s Privacy Act. But in his written statement for the record, he recommended clarifying the definition of "visual recording," given that "the ‘transmission of images’ could encompass still photographs or images, such as X-rays, that are then digitized or scanned, as well as cine images that are now routine in catheterization laboratories and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)."

As written, H.R. 1490 would still allow a physician or psychologist "to conduct a medical imaging procedure, such as an X-ray, Computed Tomography scan, MRI scan, or ultrasound on a patient without the patient’s consent, if the physician or psychologist deemed the procedure to be medically necessary."

Two other bills discussed at the hearing were the Infectious Disease Reporting Act (H.R. 1792), introduced April 26 by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Col., and the Foreign Travel Accountability Act (H.R. 1804), introduced the same day by Rep. Tim Huelscamp, R-Kans.

The Infectious Disease Reporting Act legislation would require VA facilities nationwide to comply with state infectious disease-reporting requirements. Once reported to the state, this data would then be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and used to monitor public health.

Jesse testified that VA does not support the measure on infectious diseases because the department wants to "discuss with the committee ideas to provide more standardization and consistency in its practices to fulfill the aims of the bill, which we believe can be achieved without new mandates in legislation that raise legal complications, as well as create administrative burdens by requiring compliance with many different state laws."

The Foreign Travel Accountability Act legislation would require VA to submit semiannual reports to Congress on the department’s foreign travel. The reports would include the purpose for each trip, the destination and total cost.

Jesse testified that, while VA has no objection to providing Congress with useful information for its oversight responsibilities, "we recommend the bill be amended so the data required by the semiannual reports is consistent with the data available from the E-Gov Travel Service system, which is currently" Additionally, he recommended that "the bill be amended to exclude any employee foreign travel where a non-federal source reimburses the government for all costs."