Tester Grills VA Secretary on Future of Veterans Community Care

Senator Raises Concerns on the Implementation of VA MISSION Act

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member Jon Tester today grilled VA Secretary Robert Wilkie about the VA’s implementation of his landmark, bipartisan VA MISSION Act.

Tester specifically questioned Wilkie on the VA’s recent decision to backtrack its agreement with Congress to designate certain health care services as automatically eligible for community care outside the VA and instead outsource almost all VA health care services to private health care providers. Tester told Wilkie that this decision is putting the VA on a path towards privatization–something Tester and most veterans oppose.

“Mr. Secretary, not even six months ago, you came before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and said you would oppose attempts to privatize VA health care,” Tester said. “If you move further down this path – gutting the VA health care system for those veterans who want and need to use it – you’ll end up bringing down the whole ship.”

The VA had previously indicated to Senators that certain services like routine lab work and X-rays should be almost always automatically eligible for community care outside the VA. The VA now indicates it plans to designate every VA health care service as eligible for community care, essentially outsourcing all segments and types of VA health care based on the same arbitrary wait times and geographical standards veterans found frustrating under the VA Choice Program.

Tester noted that the VA’s decision to outsource all types of VA care to the private sector goes against the intent of the bipartisan VA MISSION Act and the veterans and advocates who helped draft it.

“To make matters even worse, VA officials have offered us only vague, verbal descriptions of the various sets of potential access standards you are considering,” Tester continued. “It also concerns me that each time we’ve discussed this issue in the last two months VA officials have given us wildly different estimates of how much this will cost. We need to know what you’re doing and how much it is going to cost. No conflicting or vague answers. No fuzzy math. No games. The stakes are too high.”

Today’s hearing was a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees. More information about “Tracking Transformation: VA MISSION Act Implementation” can be found online HERE. Tester’s opening statement can be read in full HERE.