WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today offered an amendment (#356) to the Budget Resolution (S. Con. Res. 11) that would send a strong message to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to utilize its current authorities to provide veterans access to non-VA health care when the nearest VA medical facility within 40 miles drive time from a veteran’s home is incapable of offering the care sought by the veteran. Sen. Moran’s amendment is cosponsored by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Sen. Moran is pushing for a vote on his amendment on Wednesday.
This amendment mirrors Sen. Moran’s Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 (S. 207), legislation cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 18 Senators. S. 207 has broad bipartisan support in Congress and has been endorsed by numerous veterans’ organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the National Guard Association of the United States.
“While I am pleased the VA heeded Congress’ calls this week to change the 40-mile calculation to driving distance, unfortunately it is not enough,” Sen. Moran said. “The VA deliberately continues to use a narrow interpretation of the 40-mile rule, choosing to take into account only the distance of a VA medical facility from a veteran’s home and not whether the VA facility can actually provide the services the veteran needs. By doing so, the VA is denying access the Choice Act was intended to offer and forcing thousands of veterans to choose between traveling hours to a VA medical facility, paying out of pocket, or going without care altogether. This amendment puts the veteran first and provides the fix the VA says they need to make certain veterans are not dismissed or forgotten just because of where they live.”
On Feb. 25, 2015, 42 senators joined together in calling on VA Secretary Bob McDonald to ease the burden of travel and access to care for millions of veterans who deserve such access through the Choice Act. The group of Senators pointed to two concerns with the way the Choice Program was being implemented. First, the VA is not considering whether the VA facility available within 40 miles of where a veteran lives offers the care a veteran needs. Secondly, VA was calculating the 40-mile distance in a straight line and not by driving distance.
Although the VA made the decision on March 24, 2015, to change the calculation used to determine 40-mile distance to driving distance through regulatory action, they have not taken action on the issue of a VA facility being incapable of offering the care sought by the veteran. Sen. Moran’s amendment provides a solution and would allow veterans to utilize their Choice Cards to access non-VA care if the VA facility within 40 miles driving distance to their home does not offer the medical service they need.
As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sen. Moran has questioned VA Secretary Bob McDonald and other VA officials for months in hearings, personal meetings, phone calls and correspondence about the VA’s flawed interpretation of the 40-mile rule and what can be done to fix the problem.
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