Tester Calls on VA to ‘do better’ at Implementing Robust Community Care Network for Veterans

Ranking Member stresses concerns over VA vacancies, referrals & payments; Urges VA to better meet the needs of rural veterans under the VA MISSION Act

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Jon Tester called on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “do better” in rolling out the new Veterans Community Care Program, which is aimed at providing efficient, timely, and quality care to veterans who can’t get the care and services they need at VA.

During the hearing, Tester questioned Dr. Richard Stone, the Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), over the Department’s projected funding to meet the demand of veterans receiving care in the community. He also expressed his frustration with VHA’s struggle to right-size the new community care program—keeping some veterans within VA for care because it’s faster, while sending others into the community when VA can’t meet their needs in-house.

“Congress didn’t create the new community care program to simply supplant VA care with private sector care—particularly when it takes less time for veterans to schedule appointments and be seen in VA facilities,” Tester said in his opening statement. “It was set up to supplement VA care, in cases where the veteran, who is the driver of this situation, wanted to go into the community. If VA is connecting veterans with care more quickly, why are so many veterans getting their care in the private sector?”

As Ranking Member of the VA Committee, Tester believes that veterans deserve a seat at the table when it comes to their health care. Tester raised concerns at today’s hearing regarding the lack of engagement with Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs).

“As you know, VA is undertaking market assessments across the country,” Tester addressed Adrian Atizado, Deputy National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “VA has indicated its teams are meeting with veterans and other stakeholders on-the-ground in different regions of the country. Can you describe DAV’s involvement in these market assessments? And whether locally or here in D.C.? Have you received any briefings on them?”

DAV replied that they have had “scarce” engagement with VA on the market assessment.

“That is not a good sign, especially for disabled veterans,” Tester cautioned. He also stressed that engagement is “absolutely necessary” and encouraged VA to address the issue.

Tester later switched gears to question David J. McIntyre, President and CEO, TriWest Health Alliance, on the process for paying for emergency room care claims versus non-emergency room claims, and highlighted the need to ensure VA health care providers participating in the network, are paid in a timely manner. Mr. McIntyre explained that TriWest Health Alliance is in the process of working to obtain the necessary authorization from VA to pay for emergency care claims and acknowledged the importance of looking at a wide range of options in order to ensure providers are not put in a compromising position and held liable for these claims.

“We can do better—VA can do better—with talking to the Veterans Service Organizations to making sure they’re meeting their needs,” Tester said in closing. “I’ve said it many times: we take our directions from the veterans. And quite frankly, we need to pay attention to what they’re saying if we’re going to meet their needs.”

Today’s hearing included testimony from two panels of witnesses from the Veterans Health Administration, Disabled American Veterans, OptumServe, and TriWest Health Alliance. More information about today’s hearing can be found online HERE.

Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery can be found HERE.

A one-page summary on the VA MISSION Act can be found HERE.