Legislation Will Hit the Senate Floor Next Month and is on Pace to Pass by Memorial Day
(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester today announced that his bipartisan bill to fix the Veterans' Choice Program is moving forward and could be considered by the Senate in early May.
Tester unveiled the new Senate VA reform bill with a bipartisan group of Senators who spent the last few weeks crafting legislation to bring more accountability and transparency to the VA, to enhance benefits and care to more veterans and their families, and to fix the VA's Choice Program. The VA's Choice Program allows veterans to access care outside the VA if they have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles away from a VA clinic. Tester believes that while the intent of Choice was good - to get veterans care more quickly - the rollout has been disastrous, causing far too many Montana veterans to wait even longer for an appointment.
"Choice is broken, and it is not working the way it was intended," Tester said. "This bill will increase veterans' access to care both inside and outside the VA, and it will better deliver on the commitment this nation has to the folks who served."
The Senate VA reform bill contains many provisions from Tester's VA Choice Program fix-the Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act-including provisions that will provide the VA with the flexibility to work more directly with community providers to deliver care to veterans, and eliminate many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent veterans from accessing care in a timely manner.
The bipartisan Senate VA reform bill additionally includes provisions from Tester's DOCS for Veterans Act, Tester's effort to reauthorize the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, and Tester's Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act.
"The cost of war doesn't end when folks return home from the battlefield," Tester said. "Keeping our promises to veterans is a cost of war and we must hold the VA accountable for delivering on those promises."
Other than Tester's fix to the VA Choice Program, the Senate VA reform bill contains the following provisions Tester authored:
- Extends additional residency positions in the VA.
- Bolsters VA efforts to recruit more licensed mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists.
- Addresses leadership vacancies that remain prevalent across the VA.
- Expands services for homeless veterans and increases Native American access to the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.
- Expands VA caregiver services and extends caregiver support services for folks providing assistance to veterans of all ages.
- Requires stronger opioid prescription guidelines for health providers and patients.
- Increases research into the health conditions of descendants of veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
- Promotes more timely and appropriate vaccinations for veterans.
- Recognizes members of the National Guard and Reserve who have served for more than 20 years, but never deployed, as "veterans."