Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
We must see meaningful and lasting change within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve veterans' access to high-quality services. In a recent letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, I detailed some of the concerns I am hearing from Idaho veterans with their experiences with the VA. I urged the VA to pay special attention to Idahoans as the VA works to improve the beleaguered Veterans Choice Program (VCP) and invited him to Idaho to hear firsthand from Idaho's veterans.
I asked the agency to report to Congress on how it plans to streamline the VCP and improve access to health care services for veterans. The VCP is not working as it should for many veterans, and many Idahoans would like to see the department reinvigorate other non-VA care programs providing individual treatment outside the VA system. Some recommend that the VA directly hire more health care providers to address unmet care delivery needs. Recognizing the VA cannot adequately fill vacant positions because of nationwide provider shortages, this challenge clearly requires a robust complementary outside care program to exist in tandem with the Veterans Health Administration network. As the VA works to consolidate non-VA care programs, the following questions must be addressed:
• What steps will the VA take to address the special needs of rural and highly rural communities?
• How will veterans' individual insurance plans be affected by the non-VA care program consolidation?
• How will the consolidated non-VA program interface with TRICARE?
• How will the VA ensure timely and accurate reimbursement of providers?
• What role will TPAs serve in a consolidated program?
• Many Idahoans have expressed concerns after having difficulty reaching the TPAs. How will the VA ensure its TPAs are providing timely assistance to veterans?
• Will the VA ensure that veterans have another means to schedule care if the TPA is untimely?
• What training will VA staff and TPAs have to understand and administer the new consolidated program?
The letter was sent as I concluded a second statewide Veterans Survey at the end of September. In conjunction with a town meeting tour, I have sought to learn more about the experiences and needs of Idaho's veterans community by having current and former servicemembers and those active in the veteran community provide feedback through a survey. Idahoans' willingness to participate in the survey is encouraging and critical to guiding meaningful reforms.
While some progress has been made, ensuring timely, high-quality veterans care is an ongoing effort. We need lasting solutions close to home, not short-term, top-down attempts that fail to take into account the needs of local veterans. As continued improvements are sought, thank you to Idaho's veterans for their service and their ongoing help with improving veterans' access to high-quality care.
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