Our nation’s veterans, who serve during times of war and peace, have sacrificed a great deal to keep our nation safe and protect our freedoms. It is our duty in Congress to ensure that veterans receive the care they have earned for their service to our country. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has the responsibility to provide a variety of services for veterans, it is also Congress’ responsibility to oversee the VA and ensure they operate in the most transparent and efficient manner possible.
Congress has made it a priority to dramatically reform the VA. The process to make changes is ongoing, and there continues to be areas in need of improvement. One of the primary obstacles that many veterans and their families face is receiving timely and accessible medical care. Long wait times and limited access continues to be a challenge for the VA. Congress has passed bipartisan legislation annually to improve claims processing and medical treatment for veterans. Last week, the House passed one of the most comprehensive VA reform bills to date – the VA MISSION Act of 2018. This bill will consolidate and standardize VA community care programs and provide funding for the continuation of the VA Choice Program.
Established in 2014, the VA Choice Program expands options for medical care through a community provider, rather than at VA hospital or facility which may be hours away. The program has had a complicated eligibility, authorization, approval, and payment process which is confusing and expensive. Unfortunately, the VA has struggled to keep up with the demand of the Choice Program. The VA MISSION Act includes $5.2 billion in mandatory funding to circumvent a potential access crisis in early June when the VA predicts the Choice Program would run out of funding.
While the legislation contains numerous provisions that expand the VA’s internal capacity to care for veterans in medical facilities by improving recruitment and retention programs, changes also are included for community care. It will consolidate seven duplicative programs into one cohesive program. It removes the current 30-day, 40-mile barriers to the Choice Program and expands veteran choice and access to timely and quality care. The intent of this legislation is to provide for shorter wait times, better care, faster payment procedures, improved facilities, streamlined community care criteria and overall greater care for nine million veterans and their families.
This legislation is a bipartisan agreement that makes short and long-term reforms essential to the future operation and success of the VA. Veterans should have the best care possible without the burden of bureaucratic red-tape or inadequate resources. I was proud to support the reforms on the House floor, and now it is up to the Senate to pass this bipartisan bill. Supporting our veterans is not only the right thing to do – it is a fundamental commitment Congress must keep.