Arlington, VA – House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) has introduced two bills aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The first bill reforms the VA’s choice and community care programs and the second bill would establish a commission to review and realign the VA’s infrastructure.
The VA Care in the Community Act (H.R. 4242) would establish a permanent VA community care program and consolidate the Veterans Choice Program with other community care programs. The VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017 (H.R. 4243), would create a commission to make recommendations on the modernization, consolidation, and realignment of VA facilities.
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Executive Director Dan Caldwell issued the following statement:
“The VA Care in the Community Act contains some positive reforms but still falls short of delivering real health care choice to our veterans. Under this legislation, the VA will still retain almost complete control over when a veteran can access private health care, which could undermine the better aspects of this legislation. We believe that a few minor modifications can improve this legislation and ultimately ensure that veterans have more control over their health care. CVA will continue to work with members of Congress to improve this bill.
“The VA is currently wasting resources maintaining hundreds of empty, under-utilized, and outdated buildings – resources that could be better spent providing health care and other benefits to veterans. Congress should pass the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017 to ensure that the department’s resources are being maximized to better serve our veterans and that the VA’s infrastructure is properly aligned to serve the veteran population of the future. We applaud House Veterans Affairs Chairman Dr. Phil Roe for tackling this important issue and we look forward to ensuring that this legislation is signed into law.”
CVA is supporting the following modifications to the VA Care in the Community Act: allowing an eligible veteran to choose any primary care physician within their VA integrated care network – regardless of whether they are at the VHA or a contracted community provider; returning the VA to a secondary payor status for veterans with other health insurance for non-service connected care in the community; and authorizing the pilot programs that were proposed as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s original CARE plan to be implemented.
The Veterans Choice Program, which was enacted under the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, was implemented in response to the wait list scandal of 2014. It was passed as a stop-gap measure and was never intended to be a permanent solution. The Choice Program has faced several issues and failed to give many veterans real choice in their health care.
The VA is one of the largest federal property-holding agencies, owning buildings covering more than 151 million square feet and leasing over 1,500 buildings costing more than $340.6 million annually in rent. Secretary Shulkin has testified in previous hearings that the VA has hundreds of empty or under-utilized VA buildings that cost the federal government $25 million annually to maintain.
For years, CVA has advocated for substantial health care reforms at the VA. In CVA’s Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, the group advocates that veterans should have the option to take their earned health care benefits and use them to access care at the VA or in the private sector. Additionally, the Taskforce proposes implementing a VA infrastructure realignment procedure under the recommendations of an independent nine-member panel.