March 09, 2016

Legislation Brings Needed Changes to VA Choice Program

Concerns by Idaho Vets Addressed Under Crapo-Sponsored Fix

WASHINGTON - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, along with seven senators, has introduced S.2646, the Veterans Choice Improvement Act of 2016.  This legislation would fix many of the problems plaguing the Veterans Choice Program and the non-VA care programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  S. 2646 consolidates these programs into one with permanent funding.  This fix eliminates the current competition between programs, making it easier for providers to work with the VA to ensure that veterans have access to the medical services they need.                   

"Idaho veterans have told me directly that the Choice program just doesn't work in rural parts of the state," said Senator Crapo.  "I worked with Senator Burr to make sure the views of Idahoans are taken into consideration in this nationwide fix.  This legislation will make it easier for the women and men who have honorably served our nation to receive the medical benefits they have earned."

"I'm proud to work with Senator Crapo on this legislation to improve veteran's health care," said Senator Burr, lead Republican on the legislation and Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  "Over the years, Senator Crapo and I have discussed ways to address the unique barriers rural veterans confront when seeking VA care. Our goal is to make sure every veteran can get the health care they need without having to wait or drive long distances; this bill is an important step forward for achieving that goal."

The Veterans Choice Program was created in 2014 in the wake of the scandal that rocked the VA.  It was intended to allow veterans to obtain health care from providers outside of the standard VA system.  Crapo says this new legislation answers many of the complaints and concerns voiced by Idaho veterans in Crapo's 2015 Veterans Survey, as well as reflected in casework and constituent mail received in his Senate office.

Last week, during the Lewiston town meeting, as in many other town meetings Crapo has held throughout Idaho, veterans took to the microphone to talk about the delays and challenges they face under the current program.  Doc Kinney, a Lewiston veteran, told Crapo, "The Choice Program is another level of time and confusion in the VA's attempt to make things more efficient.  Veterans just give up trying to get through all the red tape.  When a patient is sick, they do not have the strength and time to go through all of this."

"Veterans throughout Idaho have shared with me numerous stories about the challenges created by the Choice Program," Crapo added.  "I have held town meetings throughout Idaho in the last 18  months, and this problem has been brought up at nearly every single one.  In the rush to address the problems exposed in 2014, Congress enacted an imperfect program that has too much red tape for veterans and local VA staff alike.  This red tape, combined with veterans' anger over the VA's history of failures, complicates medical care even further.  This measure makes the non-VA health care programs more sustainable and vet-friendly.  I pledge to continue working with my Senate colleagues to fix the problems veterans encounter in obtaining medical services.  And I encourage Idahoans to keep me informed about their experiences with these services.  This will help in the process to continue to refine and change the VA into the system that our veterans deserve."

The legislation consolidates non-VA care programs to make it easier for the VA to manage resources in an efficient and transparent manner. This measure makes it easier for non-VA care providers to enter into agreements with the VA to provide medical care and services for veterans.  In making local care options available, veterans will not have to continue traveling to distant VA medical centers for their care.  For many veterans, especially those in Idaho, traveling long distances from rural communities presents a significant time and financial hardship.  This legislation would help relieve that added stress for many veterans who are seeking the care they need.

S. 2624 is also co-sponsored by Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Steve Daines (R-Montana), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and John Boozman (R-Arkansas) and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

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