Senate Unanimously Passes Moran Amendment, Sends Message to VA: Fix 40-Mile Eligibility in Choice Act
Mar 26 2015
WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed an amendment (#356) to the Budget Resolution (S. Con. Res. 11) authored by U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) that makes clear the Senate’s strong support for requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (the Choice Act) as Congress intended. By passing Amendment #356 by a vote of 100 to 0, the Senate has called on the VA 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. The VA is currently forcing thousands of veterans to choose between traveling hours to a VA medical facility, paying out of pocket, or going without care altogether.
The amendment passed by the Senate today mirrors Sen. Moran’s Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 (S. 207), legislation cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 18 Senators. Sen. Moran is hopeful that the strong support conveyed by the Senate’s passage of his budget amendment will encourage a passage of S. 207 out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a vote on the Senate Floor.
S. 207 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 as well as the National Rural Health Association.
Sen. Moran spoke on the Senate floor prior to the vote on Amendment #356, describing the ongoing problem veterans’ face accessing the care they were promised through the Choice Act because the VA is not considering whether the VA facility within 40 miles of where a veteran lives actually offers the care a veteran needs.
Highlights from Sen. Moran’s remarks may be found below, along with links to the video download:
(4:23) “If there is an outpatient clinic within that 40 miles, even though it doesn't provide the service that you as a veteran need, the VA says you don't qualify for the Choice Act. Now, I'm of the view they have the ability to interpret that law differently. They say it takes a legislative change. I'm not sure that there is a lot of value in continuing to have the debate about who's right about that…
(7:22) “What I do know is that veterans who are entitled to care are not receiving it and, in a sense, false promises were made. If we get this issue correct, the VA then implements the Choice Act as intended.
(7:37) “This is an important issue… one of the areas in which [the Senate] did come together and pass significant legislation is the Choice Act. Now we need to make certain that that accomplishment results in… those who are entitled to those benefits receiving them.
(8:00) “Who, I would ask, who in this country would we expect to have the best quality health care? I think it would be those who served our country, our military men and women, those who retired and became veterans... I ask for support when considered during the budget consideration, and I would ask my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring the underlying legislation that will follow…
(9:00) “The quality of life of our veterans is affected, not because we don’t want to care for them, but because we lack coming sense to implement a law when we know how it should work, we know what it should say, and yet we're impeded from accomplishing what matters so much. This is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democrat issue. This is an American issue that mostly calls for common sense.”
FTP LINK: Click here to download Sen. Moran’s remarks (save to desktop).
YOUTUBE: Click here to watch Sen. Moran’s remarks on YouTube.
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.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
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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