By: Thomas (Tom) Waters, Lt. Colonel, USAF (Ret), Ed.D. / firstname.lastname@example.org
There are surveys and there are surveys asking service members and veterans what should be done about the Veterans Administration (VA) and Veterans Healthcare. Every survey that I have seen (and I’ve seen several), nearly all (well over 90%) of the respondents say, “Don’t dismantle the VA Healthcare System, just FIX what is wrong.” I certainly hope the President, the VA Secretary, and the members of Congress are listening.
The VA has several FY 2016-2017 Priority Goals but the one I selected to focus on is:
– Improve Veterans Experience with the VA.
This is a “lofty” goal and one I want them to accomplish. I believe everyone reading this article right now is saying, “Yeah, me too.” I told you that I’d keep you informed on Dr. Shulkin’s efforts and progress. In a message to the President and also to Congress, Dr, Shulkin makes this statement:
“My overarching priority is providing Veterans access to high-quality care that meets their needs when they need it, that is easy for them to understand, and that is simple to administer, whether care is delivered in a VA facility or in their communities. So we have much work to do to build the kind of high performing, Veteran-centric, integrated enterprise Veterans deserve and need. That means modernizing the entire Department. That means modernizing our health care system. It means modernizing information technology. And it means modern facilities and modern programs and processes. We intend to build a VA that Veterans will choose.”
The surveys mentioned above also indicate that Veterans want a VA that we will choose over any attempt to “Privatize” our healthcare.
The question that will continue to be asked is, “Do we need the Choice Program?” And, the answer is an astounding YES. However, (and here is the argument) it MUST be a ‘tailored” Choice Program for those events that are clearly outside the purview of the VA Healthcare System. That is my hope for the $3.9 billion ‘Bill’ that the House of Representatives passed by the margin of 419-0 to extend the Veterans Choice Program on private care for six months. To overcome an objection from several Veteran Service Organizations, the Senate worked out a deal with House negotiators to add an amendment on leasing 28 new VA facilities in 17 states.
The Department of Veteran Affairs reiterated that the funding for Choice was due to run out in mid-August 2017. The House initially tried to fund the program by trimming pensions for Medicaid-eligible veterans and met stiff opposition from all veteran organizations. The new ‘Bill’ has some of the offsets for funding but it added the 28 leases to ease the veteran concerns. Our primary concerns remain that the extension and expansion of the Choice Program would come at the expense of core VA functions. This is an issue we will continue to resist.
The bill that passed and was sent to the Senate for quick approval included $2.1 billion for the Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek private or community healthcare, and $1.8 billion for the 28 new medical leases and new health care specialist hires.
Here are some quotes from members of the Senate, the House, and several veteran organizations:
In a joint statement after compromise on Choice was reached with the House, Senators Johnny Isakson, (R-Georgia), and Jon Tester, (D-Montana), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the bill would give Congress time to work on reforming the program. I will reiterate the challenge for all of us is to “keep their feet to the fire” to ensure that they fix the VA Healthcare System and keep their promises to provide the services that veterans have earned.
They said, “The Veterans Choice Program was created to ensure that veterans could receive timely appointments in their own communities. While this is only a short-term fix to the problem, we pledge to continue working together to address the various barriers to timely care for our nation’s veterans.”
Additionally, in a unified statement, the spokespersons for the eight Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) that had staunchly opposed the initial House bill applauded the compromise agreement that passed unanimously. They said, “Most importantly, we supported this legislation because it will authorize 28 urgently needed medical facility leases to expand VA’s internal capacity to deliver care, as well as provide VA with new tools and authorities to recruit, hire and retain high-quality medical professionals.”
The VSOs, representing a total of 5.5 million members, were the Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Since we’re in Nevada, let’s talk about how Senator Dean Heller (R-Nevada) played a part in this legislation. As a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and author of legislation used to advance the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act (S.114) in the U.S. House of Representatives, Heller played a pivotal role in sustaining funding for the Choice Program.
I want it clearly understood that I believe the other Nevada Congressional members are also doing all they can for veterans in areas where they have influence. When we look at the members of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, we have only ONE member from Nevada, Senator Heller.
Many of us have comments about the available healthcare we are receiving. However, there are some veterans still on the “waiting list” trying to get their packets approved or fighting the appeals process. While all members of Nevada’s Congressional Delegation are working diligently to improve veteran issues, we must look to our member of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee (Senator Heller) to ensure that our voices are heard.
Here is a comment from his webpage on what he has done in an attempt to overhaul the VA Appeals Process.
U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) worked to strengthen protections for veterans in the U.S. House of Representatives-passed Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, bipartisan legislation that was passed by the U.S. Senate to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeals process. The bill will now head back to the House of Representatives to be considered.
As the Co-Chair of the bipartisan Senate VA Backlog Working Group, Senator Heller has long advocated for solutions to expedite the processing of veterans’ disability claims and ultimately reduce the VA claims backlog, which still hovers around 90,000 claims. In the last Congress, Senator Heller introduced the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, legislation designed to address the current claims backlog by overhauling the claims process to withstand a surge in claims. That bill was included in a larger veteran’s legislative package, which was signed into law.
It is my hope that every veteran and family member of veterans will continue to watch what our entire Congressional Delegation, Governor Sandoval, and Dr. Shulkin are doing to “Fix the VA” and to improve the Healthcare System for our nation’s veterans.
I remain encouraged that the President has fully supported all efforts to improve the VA Healthcare System.
I will continue to follow what they say and what they do. And, all along this road to success, I will keep you informed.
If you missed any of my earlier articles you can go to the Veterans Reporter News webpage at <https://www.veteransreporternews.com/> to review any Back Issues.
I hear from MANY readers about my articles (most are positive) and I thank you for your positive or challenging “constructive” comments. Feel free to contact me if you believe any of the information provided is inaccurate or if you have additional information that I can share with our readers.