Sen. Moran Introduces Bill Directing VA to Help Veterans Still Struggling with Healthcare Access Under Choice Act
Jan 21 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation, the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 (S. 207), requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to utilize its authority to offer community care to veterans who currently are unable to receive the healthcare services they need from a VA medical facility within 40 miles of where they live. The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
“The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA) was passed with the intention of providing veterans the choice to access health care outside the VA when the burden of travel puts their well-being at risk,” Sen. Moran said. “Unfortunately, many rural Kansas veterans are still unable to access the care they need because common sense is not prevailing. It has become clear that the VA is implementing the Choice Act in a way that only takes into account distance to a VA medical facility, and not whether that facility can actually provide the medical services a veteran requires.”
“For example, while the services offered at Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) are invaluable, they cannot meet every health care need for all veterans. Living near a CBOC should not prevent a veteran from accessing care that the CBOC cannot provide,” Sen. Moran continued. “The VA has the authority to fix this problem, yet remains unwilling to do what is in the best interest of the veteran. Enough is enough. In the absence of VA action, I have introduced legislation that would make certain veterans still struggling with access to care are not dismissed or forgotten just because of where they live.”
In July 2014, the House and Senate came together to pass VACAA, comprehensive legislation to respond to VA wait-time manipulation and failure to provide timely, quality health care to veterans. This legislation permitted veterans across the country to access non-VA community care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility, including CBOCs, or their wait time for an appointment is more than 30 days. Even with this new law, many rural Kansas veterans are still unable to access the care they require because their nearest VA facility does not offer those medical services.
This legislation is supported and endorsed by the National Rural Health Association, the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, Inc., the National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, the National Association of Rural Mental Health, the National Council for Behavioral Health, the Eastern Maine Medical Center, and the National Guard Association of the United States.
“Thousands of rural and frontier veterans have no access to VA services because of their rural, remote locations. The result is that when our heroes transition back into civilians life, they may not be close to enough to VA resources or assistance when they need mental health care,” said Kyle Kessler, Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, Inc., Executive Director. “ The Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas supports the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 to give veterans the choice to see their community provider when the closest VA medical facility that can offer mental health care services to a veteran is more than 40 miles from where a veteran lives.”
The introduction of S. 207 comes on the heels of several months of efforts by Sen. Moran to work with the VA on this issue. On Sept. 9, 2014, Sen. Moran questioned VA Secretary Bob McDonald during a Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee hearing on the VA’s interpretation of the 40 mile eligibility criteria of the Choice Act.
On Nov. 14, 2014, Sen. Moran called on Sec. McDonald to meet in-person to discuss the VACAA and make certain the legislation is implemented and upheld the way it was intended and in the best interest of veterans. This includes offering non-VA care to veterans who are unable to receive the healthcare services they requite from a VA medical facility within 40 miles of where they live.
On Dec.11, 2014, Sen. Moran met with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson who reiterated the limitations of the Choice Act language and indicated the VA could not use its authorities under Title 38 to provide this access to non-VA care.
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