Weekly Columns

Transforming the VA

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Washington, June 5, 2019 | Whitley Alexander (2022266356) | comments

June 6th marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump signing the VA MISSION into law. This is also the official launch date of the VA MISSION Act’s community care program, a huge win for veterans that embodies President Trump’s commitment to serving them. The new community care program consolidates several previous Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs – including the Veterans Choice Program – into one new program used to refer veterans out into the community to receive their care under certain conditions. This new system marries the best of the private sector with the best of VA; and, most importantly, empowers veterans to take ownership of the health care benefits they earned through their service to our country.

Implementing this program is critical for veterans, as it ensures they have access to the quality care they need, when they need it – whether at a VA facility or in their community. I am grateful to President Trump for his leadership in supporting our nation’s veterans and the VA MISSION Act. He promised to “not rest until all of America’s great veterans can receive the care they so richly deserve,” and the VA MISSION Act takes another step toward fulfilling that promise. I am also grateful to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and his staff for their hard work ensuring VA is ready to implement this new program.

The VA MISSION Act includes provisions to improve every facet of VA health care system and to ensure veterans have improved access to timely, quality care. Under the new community care program, veterans can choose to seek community care under several conditions, including: if their drive time to a VA medical facility exceeds 30 minutes for primary care, mental health or non-institutional extended care or 60 minutes for specialty care or if their wait time at a VA medical facility exceeds 20 days for primary, mental health or non-institutional extended care or 28 days for specialty care. This change will be beneficial for veterans in both rural and urban areas by giving them more options for accessing care. 

However, the VA MISSION Act does not just give veterans more control of their health care, it also represents a strong investment in VA’s internal capacity to care for veterans. For example, it includes a bill I introduced, the Asset Infrastructure Review (AIR) Act, to realign VA’s physical footprint. The AIR Act creates a Commission to provide recommendations to VA on how the Department’s medical facilities can be restructured and modernized. Currently, the average VA medical facility is five years older than the average private care medical facility and was designed and built to meet vastly difference health care needs in a vastly different health care market. AIR will correct those issues so that VA can better provide the health care that veterans earned where veterans live. The law also strengthens VA’s ability to recruit and retain quality staffers and supports the caregivers of veterans from all eras. 

The VA MISSION Act received strong bipartisan support in the House – a vote of 347 to 70 – and the Senate – a vote of 92 to 5 – because it strikes the right balance between improving VA and improving the ability of veterans to seek care in the community when VA cannot meet their needs in a timely manner. That said, claims that the VA MISSION Act is a step towards privatization could not be further from the truth. In my lifetime, there has not been a president more supportive of our veterans President Trump. We went from funding VA with $97 billion when I first came to office to President Trump’s proposed VA budget of $220 billion for Fiscal Year 2020. If that is an attempt to privatize VA, we are doing a very poor job. Instead, the VA MISSION Act is a step toward giving our nation’s veterans options for where they receive the care that they have earned and that our nation has long promised them. 

While I am excited about the nationwide rollout of the VA MISSION Act, I understand that any new program of this magnitude will have growing pains. As Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I plan to continue careful oversight of the implementation of this law, and I hope you will let me know if you see problems develop. I am confident that with our continued efforts, the VA MISSION Act will transform our VA into the organization it was created to be. 

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Tags: Veterans