By Juliana Heerschap, CVA policy director
Concerned Veterans for America recently released our 2022 policy agenda. In it, we outlined the issues where we think we can make the biggest differences in advancing policies that will benefit veterans, the military community, and their families.
We approach these issues from the ground up. Our grassroots army leads the charge calling for reforms, while our policy team finds the best opportunities for Congress to make a real difference through legislation.
Before joining CVA as policy director, I spent over five years working behind the scenes in Congress for a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, striving to reform the VA system. And while I have seen first-hand the progress from passage of the initial choice legislation in 2014 and the VA MISSION Act of 2018, short-term and long-term work remains to be done.
The VA is still manipulating wait times, mismanaging the Community Care Program, and wasting resources. We’ve seen some big wins for veterans, but we’re just getting started.
Here are four steps Congress can take this year to keep the momentum going:
1. Demand an inspector general investigation of the VA’s implementation of the Community Care Program
Investigations have uncovered internal training documents revealing that the VA is actively avoiding referring veterans to community care. These training documents include a grab bag of tactics, including using deceptive wait-time calculation methods, dissuading veterans from opting for community care, overriding community care referral decisions made by clinicians, and simply claiming VA doesn’t have the funding to refer patients to community providers.
These methods and tactics are not only inappropriate, they are in direct conflict with the VA MISSION Act, which gives veterans access to non-VA care if the VA can’t serve them in a timely manner.
Congress should hold the department accountable by demanding the VA’s inspector general investigate these practices in skirting the law.
2. Confirm AIR Commission members and keep established deadlines
The VA is long overdue for an overhaul of its infrastructure. To do this properly, the VA MISSION Act created the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission. This body is charged with reviewing the VA’s facilities and making recommendations for how to best use VA resources. But the VA hasn’t met deadlines to start the commission’s work, and the White House has failed to nominate commissioners as required by the law.
The longer the AIR Commission’s work is delayed, the longer the VA is wasting resources that veterans need. Lawmakers must hold the VA and White House accountable to fulfill their responsibilities to modernize and realign the VA’s infrastructure to meet the needs of today and tomorrow’s veterans.
3. Protect access standards and pass the GHAPS Act.
The current access standards for community care are written in federal regulations and not in statute. Without access standards in the law, the VA has too much leeway to make its own decisions about when veterans can access non-VA care. We’ve seen this play out in FOIA documents showing the VA uses outdated access standards to manipulate wait times.
CVA supports passage of the GHAPS (Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to Personnel who Served) Act, which would make the access standards law so they cannot be changed or rolled back without congressional action.
4. Support full health care choice.
Veterans deserve the freedom to decide where they receive their health care. Even with the VA MISSION Act, too many barriers to community care options exist.
Lawmakers need to take a bigger step toward empowering veterans with true choice by supporting legislation such as the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, which would create a pilot program with full health care choice for eligible veterans.
Want to know what else CVA is working on this year? Check out this breakdown of the 2022 policy agenda.