Weekly Columns

Roe: Veterans Deserve Quality Care

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Washington, October 26, 2017 | Lani Short (202-225-6356) | comments

Since I began service as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) at the beginning of the 115th Congress, I’ve worked tirelessly to improve care and services for veterans in East Tennessee and across the nation. As a physician and veteran myself, one of my top priorities is ensuring that veterans’ needs are at the center of every decision made by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). President Trump has also made improving VA a key focus of his administration, and the results we’ve been able to achieve have been due in no small part to his leadership. As part of my ongoing efforts to transform VA into a more veteran-centric agency, I’m working to ensure veterans who receive care through the department are in charge of their health care. In addition to improving the quality and timeliness of care veterans receive, both in and out of VA facilities, I want to ensure the benefits earned by veterans are never delayed, dismantled or reneged upon. To me, this is simple: veterans should receive the best health care – wherever that may be. VA Secretary David Shulkin said it best when he testified before HVAC earlier this week and said that, “No veteran should feel trapped in the VA system.” Veterans have earned the right to access quality care that meets their needs, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve by reforming VA’s community care programs.

In April 2014, committee oversight uncovered many veterans seeking care were being put on secret waiting lists to manipulate wait times so it would appear veterans were receiving timely care. This resulted in long, unreported wait times that allegedly resulted in the deaths of over 40 veterans. In response to the VA waitlist scandal, Congress passed, and then-President Obama signed H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, bipartisan legislation which created the Choice Program. The Choice Program allows veterans to seek care outside VA if they are unable to secure an appointment at a VA medical facility within 30 days, or if the veteran resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility. Twice already this year, under the leadership of President Trump and Secretary Shulkin, we have passed legislation to continue this program so veterans have certainty and continuity of care.

While Choice was a great starting point to putting veterans in charge of their care, it has not been without flaws. One of the most common concerns I hear is that too many veterans still report difficulty scheduling an appointment through the Choice Program – even after they receive approval from their VA provider to seek care in their community. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Space Shuttle was built with less complexity than it takes to get an appointment through the Choice Program. The simplest thing I did for patients in my medical practice was scheduling appointments, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be that simple at VA. In addition to difficulty scheduling an appointment, many veterans have communicated to me that they believe the time and distance restrictions are arbitrary, and providers participating in the system have shared they often aren’t paid in a timely manner.

To address the concerns raised by veterans and providers, I’ve been working with the Trump administration to develop a strategic plan to reform community care programs so our nation’s heroes have access to the quality care they deserve. We want to ensure veterans are provided the care and level of service they are promised, whether they receive that care within VA or from a provider who sees patients in consultation with VA. To this end, this week HVAC held a hearing to consider draft legislation to consolidate VA’s existing community care programs into one cohesive program. I heard testimony from Secretary Shulkin and several Veterans Service Organizations, and received a great deal of additional feedback from stakeholders to help build additional bipartisan support for the reforms being discussed.

Make no mistake: nothing in this plan will privatize the VA. Instead, my bill would create a seamless, integrated VA system of care that relies on VA providers and medical facilities where and when they are available, as well as a network of providers in the community who veterans can see veterans in consultation with VA. This bill would also help modernize VA’s medical claims processing system to guarantee that community providers can expect to be paid on time for the care they provide to veterans on VA’s behalf, which will encourage providers to participate in the program and give veterans even more options for care.

Many veterans, especially those in East Tennessee, receive excellent care at VA facilities, and I will make sure that nothing we do reduces the quality of this care. However, for those veterans who aren’t having their needs met, my plan will ensure they can see a doctor outside VA without having to navigate a maze of bureaucracy. One thing is certain: we can never again allow our nation’s veterans to be left out to dry. As long as I have the honor of serving as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’ll see to it they are not.

As always, feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.

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Tags: Veterans