Shea-Porter: Congress Must Act on Permanent, Streamlined Access to Non-V.A. Care
WASHINGTON, DC -- Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) today wrote to House and Senate leadership calling for action on a permanent, user-friendly solution for veterans who need non-V.A. care in the community. Shea-Porter’s letter followed House action on a short-term extension of the Veterans Choice Program.
“Now is the time for Congress to establish a permanent solution that meets the needs of our nation’s veterans, community providers, and the VA,” wrote Shea-Porter. “Our nation’s veterans deserve the benefits we have promised to them, and that includes timely access to the best medical care our country has to offer. Congress will be able to build on its commitment to provide this care within the VA by strengthening the VA health system while also streamlining veterans’ access to private care when it is needed.”
In 2014, Shea-Porter voted for the Veterans Choice Act, which created the three-year program that currently allows New Hampshire veterans to receive care from non-VA providers if they live more than 20 miles from the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont. This afternoon, the House unanimously passed the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act, which will lift the program’s scheduled August sunset date and allow veterans to schedule appointments until remaining funds are expended. While Shea-Porter’s letter applauds this short-term solution, it also urges Congressional action to develop a permanent, sustainable program New Hampshire veterans can rely on.
A former military spouse, Shea-Porter is committed to ensuring our veterans have access to the quality health care they deserve. During her four terms as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, she has worked to provide New Hampshire veterans with increased in-state access to medical care and an expanded GI Bill of Rights. In February, Shea-Porter met with Manchester VA Medical Center leadership to discuss progress and challenges improving access and quality of care for New Hampshire veterans, including through the Choice program. Last month, the House passed Shea-Porter’s amendment to improve the VA’s ability to hire and retain health providers, which would create a category for mental health professionals in a database to help match qualified applicants to critical open positions at the VA, facilitating faster hiring.
FULL LETTER TEXT
Dear Speaker Ryan, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader Schumer:
I applaud the House’s action today to extend the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Choice Program (VCP). Today’s vote was an important first step in creating a Community Care program that fully meets the needs of our veterans. I am writing to respectfully request that Congress commit to passing legislation that reforms and improves the VCP to create a sustainable, user-friendly program for veterans to access non-VA care.
Moving forward, Congress must address the persistent administrative weaknesses in the VCP program, which include problems with access to care as well as the Department’s inability to pay medical claims to community providers in a timely way. The extension that the House passed today will provide short-term stability of care, but further action will be needed to ensure the program can continue to serve veterans beyond January 2018, when it is expected that the Choice Fund will run out of money. Now is the time for Congress to establish a permanent solution that meets the needs of our nation’s veterans, community providers, and the VA.
The Veterans Health Administration has issued nearly 3 million authorizations for care through the VCP, and Secretary Shulkin recently testified that approximately 750,000 authorizations were issued in the first quarter of this fiscal year, a 35% increase over the same period last year. In my home state of New Hampshire, every veteran who does not live within 20 miles of the White River Junction Medical Center is eligible for the VCP, and the Manchester VA Medical center schedules an average of over 500 VCP appointments every month. Congress created the VCP to address an immediate crisis in access to care for our veterans, and it is clear that demand for Community Care is rising quickly. Veterans now expect to be seen by a community provider when that option best fits their needs.
Both Congress and the VA need to act in order to strengthen the VCP program and significantly improve its operation. As you know, the Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a plan that the VSO community strongly supports to streamline and consolidate its many purchased care programs, including the VCP, into one improved Community Care program that is easy to understand and use for all stakeholders. As part of this process, the Department has asked for legislative changes that will allow it to more easily pay providers and establish a more robust provider network.
I welcome the opportunity to work with you on legislation that improves Community Care while preserving access to and enhancing health care services within the VA. The VA provides some of the best care anywhere in the country to veterans via providers with decades of experience providing veteran-specific treatment. We must preserve and strengthen this national asset. Our nation’s veterans deserve the benefits we have promised to them, and that includes timely access to the best medical care our country has to offer.
I hope that Congress will be able to build on its commitment to provide this care within the VA by strengthening the VA health system while also streamlining veterans’ access to private care when it is needed. Thank you for your commitment to the men and women who have served our country.
Member of Congress