June 25, 2018

Weekly Column: Untangling Veterans Health Care

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

I was contacted by an Idaho veteran who was denied U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coverage for an emergency hospital visit because he had not been to a VA doctor in the past 24 months.  This veteran is among thousands of veterans nationwide caught up in complicated requirements.  Legislation I authored was recently signed into law that will help make non-VA health care options more straightforward for veterans.  This new law requires the creation of an education program to inform veterans of their health care options through the VA and a training program to teach VA employees how to administer the non-VA health care programs.  The hope is that the new law will provide veterans with better information upfront so they clearly know their options while VA employees will be trained to be even more of a resource to veterans for navigating care that best meets their needs.    

Congress created the Veterans Choice Program (Choice program) to eliminate long waits for appointments and other barriers for veterans accessing timely, quality care.  However, since the Choice program’s creation, at least 100 Idaho veterans have requested my help with problems using the Choice program.  These experiences and feedback through the veterans surveys I conducted, town meetings I have held across the state, letters, calls and other correspondence and discussions guided my introduction last year of legislation to fix the program to ensure accessible non-VA community care that is responsive to the individual needs of Idaho veterans.

I worked with other senators, including Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), to advance these reforms.  Congress recently overwhelmingly passed and the President signed into law legislation, known as the VA MISSION Act, that includes the two legislative provisions I authored to provide the veterans benefits education and staff training programs and consolidates the current seven VA community care programs into a new Veteran Community Care Program to streamline the delivery of local, private health care to veterans when it is in the best medical interest of the veteran.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars recognized the legislation I authored last year for introducing this veteran centric approach to care in the community.

The VA MISSION Act also includes a number of other important reforms to provide veterans with more choices and fewer barriers to care:

  • Expands benefits for caregivers of veterans for all eras, not just those injured after 9/11;
  • Removes barriers, including 30-day waits and 40-mile distances, for veterans to access care in their communities;
  • Creates new standards for community care providers to receive timely payments for care provided to veterans;
  • Provides additional resources for hiring and retaining VA health care professionals; and
  • Requires checks to help ensure optimal care for veterans and efficiency. 

A one-page summary and a section-by-section summary of the VA MISSION Act are available on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs website: www.veterans.senate.gov.

Thank you to Idaho veterans for the valuable input that has helped achieve the overwhelmingly bipartisan enactment of these much needed reforms.  This new law is meant to help ensure that veterans will not have to drive long distances to access care and wait a long time to see a doctor.  It is meant to provide a more straight-forward program for veterans to access medical care in the community when it is in their best clinical interest, and provide veterans with necessary information to understand their options.  I look forward to continuing to work with you to make sure the new law is properly implemented to meet these reasonable expectations and veterans have access to high-quality care responsive to their needs.       

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