NGAUS Washington Report
May 22, 2018
Little opposition is expected for legislation that would provide veterans a wider choice for private medical care. The VA Mission Act, H.R. 5674, easily passed the House last week and has support in the Senate, including from the top Democrat on veterans issues, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. The main sponsor of the bill is Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
In a statement, President Donald Trump said he wants the bill on his desk before Memorial Day, which is Monday.
There is a measure of urgency for the bill’s passage. It would provide $5.2 billion to prevent the shutdown of the VA Choice program, which is now the main source of private care for veterans. Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has warned that funds run out at the end of May.
The bill is a $52 billion plan that broadens private care and expands the stipend provided to VA caregivers. Currently, only people providing care to post-9/11 veterans receive the stipend. The VA Mission Act would phase in the stipend to caregivers for all veterans, according to Military Times.
But the main piece of the bill is the increased ability for veterans to receive care outside the VA system. It would consolidate seven private-care VA programs, including Choice, into one plan.
Last year, more than 33 percent of all VA-funded medical appointments were outside VA facilities. VA Choice, which was created in 2014 in the wake of long waits for appointments, handles 30,000 medical appointments each day.
The Mission Act would maintain VA input in the overall care of veterans while allowing them greater access to private providers. They could use private care if the VA did not provide necessary medical options, if the wait times or travel times were too long, or if the service was poor.
While many veterans groups back the plan, some fear it is another step toward privatization. Roe scoffed at that idea, saying, “Opponents of this bill will tell you, falsely, that it is aimed at eventual privatization of the VA health-care system. That misconception is based on nothing but fear and rhetoric. A yes vote is a vote for access, for quality, for choice, for the long-term success and sustainability of the VA health-care system, for caregivers and for veterans.”