COLUMN: Fulfilling the Mission
Over the years, I have heard too many stories of veterans in my district who experienced delays, cancellations or a lack of response from the Veterans Administration. This has been made worse by the fact that in a rural district like Colorado’s Third Congressional District, so many veterans have been forced to drive hundreds of miles just to get to appointments.
Initially, Congress took action to address the longstanding challenges with veterans’ access to care by passing the Veterans Choice Act. Through this program, if a veteran lived 40 miles away from a VA facility or was unable to obtain care at a VA facility within 30 days, he or she could seek care at a non-VA facility and then those facilities would be reimbursed by the VA.
While the Veterans Choice Program was a step in the right direction, many issues still arose after its implementation. Earlier this year, a General Accounting Office report found that the VA was unable to fulfill its mission of providing veterans with timely medical appointments, despite the billions of dollars in funding that have been funneled into the choice program. Most notably, the report found that veterans still had to wait between 51 and 64 days for appointments with private doctors under the program.
Additionally, reports in 2016 indicated that many non-VA providers were not receiving reimbursements from the VA in a timely manner, which resulted in these non-VA providers either refusing to treat veterans or forcing the veterans to foot bills that they were not equipped to pay.
Our veterans have sacrificed in service to this country and everyone can agree that these heroes deserve better. In response to this urgent problem, I supported, Congress passed, and the president subsequently signed into law a bill that will greatly improve veterans’ access to health care. The VA MISSION Act, will replace the choice program and expand veterans’ access to private sector health care, drastically reducing their wait times.
One of the major provisions included in the VA MISSION Act originally was included in a bill that I authored called the Veterans Improved Access and Care Act of 2017. The provision that was included eliminates the arbitrary 30-day, 40-mile eligibility rule, allowing veterans full access to private and local medical care regardless of their situations or locations. My provision will ensure that no veteran is made to wait, or even worse, go without the health care that they have earned.
This important legislation also addressed the issue of non-VA providers not receiving reimbursements from the VA. The VA MISSION Act creates a standard for timely payment to community care providers to ensure that veterans continue to have the option of receiving care at non-VA facilities and keeps the cost of that care in line with the cost of VA health care to ensure that veterans are not forced to pay bills that were higher than expected.
The VA MISSION Act will also work to improve the health care provided in rural areas by providing additional resources for hiring and retaining VA health professionals, removing barriers to tele-medicine and sending mobile deployment teams to provide specialized and routine health care.
Nothing is more disheartening to me than hearing about veterans not receiving quality or timely care. Every veteran deserves the best health care possible and it is my priority to provide that care. In implementing the VA MISSION Act, we are in a better position to fulfill that mission and I will continue to work to ensure that veterans have access to the care they have earned.