Recently, Concerned Veterans of America Executive Director Russ Duerstine spoke with Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn about the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, the VA MISSION Act, and reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans’ Health Care Freedom Act: A new path for veterans’ care
Sens. Blackburn and Mike Rounds introduced the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act.
Through the VA MISSION Act, access to urgent care works well, but other parts of community care need improvement. The Veterans Health Care Freedom Act aims to give veterans more choice in their health care, which is especially important for newer veterans dealing with issues such as burn pit exposure.
Instead of waiting for VA approval to seek community care, the bill would allow veterans to choose their care directly.
“Delayed care is denied care. That really impacts the quality of life and the longevity of life that is there for our veterans,” Blackburn said. “So, let’s take it out of the process, and let’s make this available for the veteran to choose where they want to go and how they want to get that care. Putting veterans rather than the VA bureaucracy at the center of our conversations about veteran health care is so important.”
Tennessee’s robust veteran community and the impact of the VA MISSION Act
With over 453,000 veterans and multiple active-duty military bases, Tennessee has a robust veteran community. Sen. Blackburn sees the presence of active-duty members and veterans as a significant part of Tennessee’s identity.
Her Tennessee state offices are also staffed with veterans, which helps veteran constituents with having their voices heard.
“We have case workers that will gladly take up their case and work with the VA to make certain that the promises made to them the day that they signed on the line to serve our nation, that those promises are going to be kept” Blackburn shared.
But her commitment to veterans isn’t confined to Tennessee.
Even before introducing the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, Blackburn’s commitment to bettering veteran care can be traced back to her strong support for the VA MISSION Act. Blackburn praised the law for its role in advancing choice in the VA health care system and helping address some issues in the system.
When Congress passed the law under President Donald Trump, she was excited that veterans could get community care where they lived. “That is so much better than having to seek out a VA [hospital] that can provide whatever it is that you [need], get on a wait list and wait for [care]. That is no way to treat our veterans,” she said.
She lamented that the VA often doesn’t want to give veterans community care options. “[VA leaders] don’t want community care. They want everything right there, at their convenience. The bureaucracy is more important. It’s all for the bureaucracy. It is not for the good of the veteran.”
Blackburn recommended that the VA should be removed from the approval process for community care, and the process should be automated. Bringing it online would make it easier for veterans to fill out forms and schedule primary care appointments.
The state of Veteran Affairs: Issues with backlogged claims and extended wait times
The VA still has a massive problem on its hands with disability claims.
A disability claim is backlogged when it’s pending for more than 125 days, and the amount of those at the VA is outrageous. There were 260,000 cases reported in 2021. As of May 2023, that number is around 200,000, but amid a poorly managed rollout of new benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, the claims backlog could grow to 400,000 over the next year.
This issue also spills into VA wait times, which Blackburn isn’t happy about.
In Tennessee, veterans are facing long wait times for primary care appointments, which significantly affects their health care. The same is true for veterans in every state around the country.
Blackburn said the Biden administration has been spending irresponsibly, increasing the national debt by, and spreading misinformation about funding for veterans’ programs rather than tackling the problem of access to care.
“Veterans really don’t appreciate being used as pawns and [Biden] made us feel that way,” Duerstine added.
The real solution for ensuring veterans have the care they need is creating more access and eliminating barriers. Sen. Blackburn’s Veterans Health Care Freedom Act would do just that.
Watch the full interview with Sen. Marsha Blackburn and learn more about the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act.