President Signs Tester’s 15th Bill into Law
Montana Veterans Praise Senator’s Bipartisan Law to Scrap Choice Program, Streamline Community Care, Improve VA Health Care
(U.S. Senate) – President Donald Trump today signed U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s 15th bill into law.
Tester’s landmark bipartisan VA MISSION Act scraps the Choice Program, cuts government bureaucracy, and delivers a better health care experience to Montana veterans.
Tester’s VA MISSION Act puts veterans and their doctors in charge of their health care and invests in the VA’s medical workforce so that it can better care for veterans. When it makes more sense for a veteran to go to a private doctor, Tester’s VA MISSION Act streamlines that process by getting rid of the one-size-fits-all community care system.
“Montana veterans deserve more than a thank you – they deserve a health care system that works for them, whether it’s at a VA clinic or a local community doctor,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our historic law gets rid of the government bureaucracy that has stood between Montana veterans and their health care.”
Tester and Republican Chairman Johnny Isakson wrote their Caring for Our Veterans Act with input from veterans, advocates, and the VA. They negotiated with leaders of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to include it in the VA MISSION Act.
“Chairman Johnny Isakson and numerous veterans groups have been strong partners in getting this bill across the finish line,” Tester added. “Together we’ll hold the VA accountable to ensure it does right by veterans as it implements our law. We did our job by crafting this legislation, and now the VA must do its job and effectively roll it out.”
The VA MISSION Act:
Reforms Community Health Care
- Scraps the beleaguered Choice Program.
- Establishes one community care program that allows veterans and their doctors to choose where to get health care.
- Streamlines the process for veterans to access community providers.
- Creates new standards for faster reimbursements to private providers who care for veterans.
- Requires stronger accountability and transparency to ensure government contractors that administer the VA’s community care are meeting the terms of their contractual requirements.
- Strengthens safety measures and guidelines for private providers to prescribe opioids to veterans.
Strengthens VA Health Care
- Provides greater recruitment, retention and relocation incentives so that the VA can attract and maintain high-quality providers.
- Increases the amount the VA will reimburse medical professionals for education debt reduction.
- Removes barriers for veterans to access telehealth care, including mental health, closer to home.
- Incentivizes medical residents and providers to work at rural, tribal and underserved VA facilities.
- Develops criteria to identify underserved medical facilities and incentivize medical professionals to complete their residencies in rural areas.
- Establishes mobile deployment teams to provide additional care at the highest-need VA facilities.
- Recruits medical scribes to assist physicians so that doctors can focus on serving veterans, and not filling out paperwork.
Expands Caregiver Benefits
- Expands eligibility for VA caregiver support services to veterans of all eras, and modernizes and strengthens support services.
Montana veterans, caregivers, providers, and advocates praised Tester’s VA MISSION Act:
“After 24 years of service in the United States Navy, including two combat tours to Viet Nam, my 20 years in the cockpit took its toll on my ability to hear,” said Tom Humphreys, Navy veteran from Noxon. “The authorization for me to get my hearing aids was made possible by Senator Jon Tester’s involvement, whether through phone calls, emails, or letters. When Senator Tester speaks, people listen and respond. My wife and I are grateful for all the efforts our Senator Jon Tester makes on our behalf, as any disability (service related or not) affects everyone who respects and cares about the veteran and his or her quality of life.”
“From Senator Tester’s bill, the VA will be working directly with local doctors to provide us veterans who live out in the country better access to medical facilities,” said John Klag, Coast Guard veteran from Libby. “I’m all for that. It should be faster for me to get in to see my doctor now.”
“I feel fortunate as a post-9/11 caregiver of a 100% disabled veteran to have the support of the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC),” said Hannah Nieskens, Post-9/11 Caregiver and 2018 Elizabeth Dole Caregiver Fellow for the state of Montana. “This program currently provides qualified post-9/11 caregivers with important training, support, and financial resources. The caregivers of pre-9/11 veterans, who represent 80% of our nation’s 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers, deserve equality and access to the same resources. The VA MISSION Act of 2018 provides the opportunity to correct the existing inequality by expanding the PCAFC to caregivers of all eras. I urge all Members of Congress to support my military and veteran caregiver peers by voting in favor of this critical legislation.”
“Caregiver expansion would be awesome for my family,” said Diane Mooney, caregiver, and wife of Wayne Mooney, Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, from Victor. “Wayne is a Vietnam vet who was hit with Agent Orange. He has neuropathy as well as eight other diseases from his exposure. Over time he’s become debilitated. I became a caregiver, not immediately after a war, but over time. It’s the same thing, it just comes at us a little slower. In my case, I used to work full time but now I work part-time and try to do everything at home as well. Senator Tester’s bill would sure be a huge, huge blessing for us and others.”
“We’ve seen veterans for years without any problems. Since the Choice Program, I sit on hold from 9 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, and when we do get payment from Choice, it’s for half of what we’re owed,” said Kristi Parrotte, owner of Physical Therapy Down Under in Havre. “Our poor veterans have to wait months to get approved for physical therapy that they should have been getting for months already. As a small provider, we’ve had to write off almost $9,000 of claims that we submitted on time. When we worked with VA Montana, we never had this issue. Veterans could get authorized and scheduled, and we never had issues getting paid. Senator Tester’s bill cuts out the middle man so I don’t have to wait on hold with a third party contractor. I would love to work with VA Montana again.”
“On behalf of the Montana Chiropractic Association, our members, and our Veterans, I’d like to thank Senator Tester for his work on the VA MISSION Act which has been a year’s long bipartisan process to replace the broken CHOICE program,” said Dr. Marcus Nynas, Immediate Past President of the Montana Chiropractic Association. “As Doctors of Chiropractic, like all physicians, we got into health care to help people. The provisions that Senator Tester worked to include will allow us to help our Veterans. We also own small businesses throughout Montana and the provisions to ensure that we are paid promptly for providing necessary treatments to our Veterans will allow us to continue to work within the VA healthcare system. This bill is a win-win for patients and providers, and we thank Senator Tester for his work to ensure its passage.”
“We are deeply grateful for Senator Tester’s effort to improve the flexibility of the VA system to allow veterans to receive care in their community,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of NAMI Montana. “One of the things that NAMI Montana is especially excited about in this bill is that it sets the for community care as the Medicare rate, but it authorizes the VA to pay higher rates in rural areas. This overcomes the real world challenge that happens often in the medical system of having a patient population that needs care, but having a payment reimbursement rate that is so low that the medical providers cannot pay to see them. The Caring for Our Veterans Act is a real step forward in the VA’s ability to provide healthcare to veterans whose circumstances prevent them from receiving care at VA facilities.”
“As a community organization interested in helping more Montana veterans access the local care they need to remain in their homes and community, I was excited to see Congress approve the VA MISSION Act to help improve and increase access to community care,” said Michelle Belknap, President and CEO of Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain. “It is important to note that Senator Tester played a key role helping push this critical legislation across the finish line. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, spoke on the U.S. Senate floor about Senator Tester’s leadership in writing and passing the legislation as the Committee’s Ranking Member. It’s no surprise to learn about Senator Tester’s key role in helping to improve care for our veterans. On behalf of the veterans we have spoken with and Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain, we extend a heartfelt thank you to Senator Tester for all his work in helping to improve care and services for America’s veterans.
“We appreciate Senator Tester’s efforts to make sure our veterans have access to state of the art care close to home,” said Dr Patrick Cobb, oncologist at St Vincent Frontier Cancer Center. “This bill would remove many of the barriers that have made it difficult for veterans to access community specialty care.”