Tester Demands Answers from VA on Access Standards Announcement

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is demanding answers from the VA on its implementation of the VA MISSION Act and community care access standards.

Following the VA’s announcement on community care access standards that lacked basic information or details, Tester led a group of Senators in asking 24 questions about the impact of these access standards on veterans, VA medical staff and employees, and American taxpayers.

Tester (D-Mont.) and Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who all serve on the Senate Committees which conduct oversight of and/or fund the VA, sent the list of inquiries to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“We are disappointed that, once again, VA has followed its now well-established pattern of lack of transparency with Congress with its failure to engage in dialogue about its plans with regard to the new Veterans Community Care Program, created under the VA MISSION Act of 2018,” the Senators wrote. “Equally troubling is the apparent indifference of the Department with regard to the concerns that decisions made on access standards and designated access standards could cause too much care to shift to the private sector, crippling the largest integrated health care system in the country for those veterans who rely on its services, presenting a false promise of faster private sector care, and spending VA’s precious resources on private sector care that Dartmouth, RAND, and others have found to be of lower quality.”

The Senators’ questions include:

  • In developing the proposed wait-time and drive-time standards, which entities or private individuals did the Department formally consult?  Informally consult?  For purposes of this question, “consult” has the meaning of “seeking advice or information from” rather than merely “providing information to.”  How did VA incorporate feedback from these entities?  Please provide examples.
  • How did VA arrive at the proposed 20 and 28-day standards?  Please provide data and other relevant information compiled in making this determination.
  • What percent of current enrollees does VA expect will be eligible under the wait-time standard?  What percent of currently eligible enrollees does VA expect will utilize private sector care under the wait-time standard?  Please provide this information by VISN and medical facility.
  • Does VA anticipate an increased reliance rate on VA health care as a result of the wait-time standard?  What is that rate for each year over the next 5 years?
  • How does the Administration intend to fund the increased usage of private sector care?
  • What is the anticipated cost of implementing the proposed drive-time standards in FY19?  In FY20?  Over 5 years?  Over 10 years? 
  • How will the President’s FY20 budget request to Congress reflect a change in reliance on VA health care overall?

Tester’s letter is the latest effort in his fight to shed more light on the VA’s implementation of the VA MISSION Act.

Tester recently led the eight Senators and Representatives responsible for oversight and funding the VA in a bipartisan call for more transparency and accountability of the VA’s implementation efforts of their groundbreaking reforms, including the VA MISSION Act. In addition, he led 28 Senators in a demand for more communication from VA Secretary Wilkie on the VA’s progress implementing the VA MISSION Act.

The Senators’ questions and letter can be read online in their entirety HERE.