It has been over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many veterans found even with the VA MISSION Act, they lack health care choice. Delayed and denied health care has real impacts on our veterans. It can be the difference between timely treatment and a diagnosis that permanently changes the life of a veteran and their family. Congress should act to provide aggressive oversight to protect our veterans.
The VA MISSION Act was passed in 2018 and launched some of the most significant reforms of the VA in decades. This included creating the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) that gave greater health care choice to millions of veterans. However, the VA has chosen to selectively pick and choose what regulations and sections of the law to follow. From reports of VA staff overruling VA doctors and cutting of access to community care to the VA blowing past deadlines to modernize its infrastructure, advocating for the VA MISSION Act to be properly implemented is critical.
Hold VA Accountable to VA MISSION Act Requirements: While significant portions of the VA MISSION Act have been implemented, details that have emerged from external investigations reveal a federal agency with a history of denying and delaying care for veterans is doing it again. The Government Accountability Office wrote Secretary McDonough in May 2021 and outlined why the VA’s current scheduling practices leave wait time calculations being “subject to interpretation and prone to scheduler error.” This comes on top of nearly 20 million appointments canceled in 2020, many of which lack documentation of follow-up from the VA.
Apart from community care, the VA MISSION Act also created a commission to examine modernizing the VA’s infrastructure, yet in early 2022 announced they would not be meeting deadlines established in the law. Examining the VA’s aging infrastructure is long overdue as the geographic distribution of the veteran population shifts and health care delivery methods change dramatically.
Oversight is needed by Congress to course-correct and hold the VA accountable to following the law.
Grant Full Health Care Choice: The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the weaknesses within our health care systems. Veterans learned first-hand the barriers that exist for them to access non-VA care. It is time for policymakers to support legislation to give veterans full choice through a portable health care benefit that includes flexibility to choose the health care that meets their unique needs.
Pursue Transformative VA Reforms: While the VA MISSION Act set in motion some of the significant changes the VA health care system has seen in decades, yet the VA remains in need of further reforms. The Commission on Care recommendation #18 urged the VA to determine who and what services the VA is best positioned to provide for veterans. Congress should: