WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) – members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs – today introduced the Veterans’ Health Empowerment, Access, Leadership, and Transparency for our Heroes (HEALTH) Act to protect and expand access to care for veterans, safeguard veterans’ ability to choose their own providers and require VA to improve the quality of care veterans receive.
This legislation would codify and expand the current criteria established in the MISSION Act for determining when a veteran is eligible to receive community care and make certain the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) operates in a manner that promotes, rather than hinders, access to care for veterans. This would be accomplished by better educating veterans about the options available to them under the MISSION Act and requiring greater accountability and transparency from VA leaders and staff. The Veterans’ HEALTH Act would also require VA to take meaningful steps toward embracing innovation and value-based care to increase quality, strengthen the VA workforce and prevent veteran suicide.
“Veterans deserve access to timely, high-quality care and a greater ability to choose when, where and how to use the health care benefits that they earned through their service and sacrifice,” said Sen. Moran, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Despite the steps Congress has taken to increase access to care for veterans in VA and in the community, I continue to hear from far too many veterans in Kansas and across the country who are not being given the choices they are owed from VA. This legislation will help make certain VA fulfills its mission to care for veterans by safeguarding care in the community, expanding access to care for veterans with mental health and substance use disorders, empowering veterans with the information they need to make the health care decisions that best serve them and requiring VA to improve quality of care.”
“Coming from a military family, ensuring our servicemembers receive the care and benefits they have earned is personal to me,” said Sen. Sinema. “That is why we’re improving the VA Community Care Program to provide stability and certainty to Arizona veterans in need of care.”
The Veterans’ HEALTH Act is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Wounded Warrior Project, The American Legion, America’s Warrior Partnership, The Independence Fund, Concerned Veterans for America and the National Defense Committee.
The Veterans’ HEALTH Act would:
- Codify the current community care access standards as baseline to prevent this or future administrations from restricting veteran choice.
- Clarify that the community care access standards include extended care services - notably inpatient mental health care and residential rehabilitation substance use treatment – except of nursing home care.
- Make certain that VA discusses telehealth with veterans as an option for care, when and where appropriate.
- Stipulate that if a veteran and their provider determine that it is in the veteran’s best medical interest to seek community care that decision is final.
- Require VA to educate and inform veterans of their eligibility for community care in a timely manner and, if a veteran’s request for community care is denied, that veterans are informed of the reason for the denial and how to appeal it.
- Require VA to consider and document a veteran’s preference on when, where and how to seek care and whether a veteran requires a caregiver or attendant to accompany them to an appointment.
- Direct VA to develop a multi-disciplinary working group to establish a strategic plan to transition the current VA health care system to a value-based care model, which has been shown to reduce suicide, reduce physician burnout and improve patient outcomes.
- Create a three-year pilot program for veterans to receive mental health care and substance use treatment through community care network providers without a prior VA referral.
- Require annual assessments by the VA Inspector General about how well VA medical facilities identify veterans who are eligible for community care and provide community care in a timely manner.
- Improve staffing, accountability and oversight of VA’s Office of Integrated Veteran Care, which oversees access in VA medical facilities and in the community.
- Strengthen VA’s Center for Innovation for Care and Payment.