(Big Sandy, Mont.) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester is taking the VA to task to ensure a quick and smooth rollout of his landmark, bipartisan VA MISSION Act.
Tester is telling VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to quickly establish community care networks, which will include local providers who will treat veterans who rely on community care through Tester’s VA MISSION Act. While the VA has a full year to implement the new Veterans Community Care Program, delays in establishing a provider network could jeopardize veterans’ seamless transition to the new community care system.
“I am extremely frustrated that veterans may not receive the benefit of a fully operational network of community providers beginning on day one of the Veterans Community Care Program,” Tester wrote to Wilkie. “This is not at all what was intended and what VA led Congress to believe would occur during the year and half we have been jointly working on new community care legislation.”
The VA has yet to award a contract to establish partnerships with community providers to serve veterans called Community Care Networks. With the delay in creating these networks, the VA may be forced to rely on individual provider agreements during the transition from the current system to the Veterans Community Care Program.
“Mr. Secretary, I understand that you have inherited this situation, but my expectation is that you will work to mitigate the damage that has been done to the rollout of the VA MISSION Act’s requirements by not having Community Care Networks fully in place on day one,” Tester wrote. “In truth, these Community Care Networks are shaping up to be more of the same hassles for veterans and the community providers who participate in them. Montana’s veterans and providers went through this hassle once before, and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Tester is also asking Wilkie whether VA staff or a contractor will be responsible for scheduling appointments for veterans under the new Veterans Community Care Program. Tester notes that in places like Montana, the VA is more than capable of scheduling veterans’ appointments in the community and that local staff have a better understanding of challenges a veteran may face to get health care, like geography or weather.
Tester’s letter is available online HERE.