Tester’s bipartisan Veterans’ Choice fix takes big step forward

Senate committee hears testimony on two of Senator Tester’s bills to improve care for veterans

(U.S. Senate)-Just two weeks after the bill’s introduction, the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today held a hearing on Senator Jon Tester’s legislation to fix the Veterans’ Choice Program and better equip the VA to serve veterans’ needs.

Tester’s bill, the Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act, will provide the VA with the flexibility it needs to improve care by streamlining and consolidating community care programs, and eliminating many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent veterans from accessing care.

“The Veterans’ Choice Program is broken, and this bill will give the VA more flexibility to ensure that veterans will be able to more timely access the care they have earned,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill is the product of compromise on both sides of the aisle, and it is critical that we quickly move this legislation out of committee and onto the Senate floor.”

The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee today joined VA Secretary Bob McDonald and voiced their bipartisan support for Tester’s bill.

Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act:
• Gives VA the spending flexibility it needs in places like Montana to quickly provide veterans non-VA care when necessary.
• Simplifies the rules so that private health care providers are better able to serve veterans when the VA cannot.
• Consolidates the VA’s multiple community care programs into a single, efficient program with straightforward eligibility criteria and a single set of clinical and administrative systems.
• Expands access to emergency treatment and urgent community care for veterans.

The Committee also heard testimony on the Senator’s bipartisan Express Appeals Act which streamlines the lengthy VA disability appeals process, provides faster decisions for Montana veterans, and saves millions of dollars. Tester’s bill creates a new VA initiative where veterans can opt to file a fully developed appeal that would be processed through a more streamlined system. The VA estimates this bill will reduce the amount of time a veteran must spend navigating the appeals process by up to 1,000 days.

Recently, Tester received a commitment from Secretary McDonald that VA staff will be traveling to Montana to help resolve the issues health care providers are having with HealthNet, the third party administrator that is scheduling appointments and handling billing for the Choice Program.

Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act is available online HERE.