There are doctors and alternative methods to the art of healing that have proven track
records and military veterans deserve access to them should their health condition call for it. That’s why it was a big step when a deal was made calling for major reform that will soon take place within the United States VA. All that awaits is a President’s signature.

On May 23, the U.S. Senate passed with overwhelming approval by a vote of 92 to 5 the VA Mission Act of 2018 (S. 2372), which acts to combine the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) seven community care programs into one. The bill would also
extend the VA “Choice Program” for one year while the VA implements the new
consolidated community care program.

According to an article written by Lisa Rein of The Washington Post, the massive bill promises to expand access for military veterans to private doctors at taxpayer expense, which is another victory for President Trump as it helps to cement one of his biggest campaign promises. The $55 billion package makes a five-year commitment to addressing the many shortcomings in America’s largest health system, which still struggles with delays after a 2014 scandal in which VA employees were found to have fudged patient wait-lists.

The bill acts to inject an additional $5.2 billion into the “Choice Program.” The “Choice Program” allows veterans to obtain care from non-VA care providers. Presently, about one-third of veterans in the system see outside doctors through the program, which Congress hastily approved as a temporary remedy in response to the above scandal. But the program – designed to serve the overflow at VA facilities both of aging Vietnam-era veterans and younger service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – is “fragmented and unwieldy,” Rein writes. Doctors have complained of slow or nonexistent payments, and veterans say there’s insurmountable red tape involved.

The new measure passed the House on May 16 by a vote of 347 to 70 and now heads to
President Trump’s desk where it is expected to soon be signed, before funding for the
“Choice Program” runs out.

The “Choice Program” has been declared a wreck from day one and dramatic changes
have been anticipated ever since. According to The Washington Post article the
Congressional Budget Office estimates that as a result of the bill an additional 640,000
veterans will seek medical help outside the system each year. For the first time the VA
will have to negotiate contracts for veterans to seek care at private walk-in clinics.

The bill was negotiated between Congress, the White House, and veterans groups over
the past year. Negotiations were reportedly often contentious between widely divergent
competing financial interests running down party lines. During this time Trump fired his
VA secretary and nominated a White House physician as a replacement, only to have the
nomination disintegrate after claims of misconduct surfaced. That turmoil slowed
progress of the legislation.

MORE CHOICES AND FEWER BARRIERS FOR VETERANS

One of President Trump’s key campaign promises had been to allow for more private
medical care to military veterans. Veterans can expect to benefit from the bill through
more choice of doctors and fewer barriers to health care.

According to a blog written by Austin Igleheart, the measure also expands
the circumstances under which veterans can obtain non-VA health care. Currently,
veterans may seek third-party care if they face a wait of at least 30 days for a VA
appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The VA Mission Act will
remove these limitations and allow veterans access to non-VA care if they require
services not offered by VA or if their doctor decides it is in their best interest. The bill
will also boost funding to recruit more doctors to VA in an effort to improve capacity.

Additionally, the VA Mission Act includes a provision that would expand VA’s Program
of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to all veterans over the course of
two years. Currently, “monthly stipends, health insurance, medical training and access to home health aides are available to family caregivers for post 9/11 veterans”, Ingleheart writes, “but not to veterans from other eras and their families.”

IN THEIR OWN HOMES, AN ALTERNATIVE TO INSTITUTIONALIZED HEALTH
CARE

The program allows family caregivers to provide care for veterans in their own homes, offering an alternative to institutionalized care and reducing the costs to local governments associated with providing health care and other services to our nation’s veterans. Ingleheart writes that by allowing VA to contract with other entities to provide supportive services for family caregivers, and authorizing VA to compensate these entities for the services they provide, the VA Mission Act can help reduce costs for counties that provide such services.

The blog further notes that the bill intends to establish a prompt payment standard to
ensure reimbursements from VA to third-party care providers. This measure will help
ensure that health care providers are able to continue serving VA-eligible veterans in a
timely manner while avoiding unnecessary delays or added costs. This is all a blessing to
help bring greater qualify of life to a vastly underrepresented, exploited, and important
minority segment of our society, our military veterans.

Advertisements