Committee Approves Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Veterans’ Community Care, VA Services

Isakson-Tester legislation passed by committee 14-1, heads to full Senate for vote

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today applauded the overwhelming committee passage of bipartisan legislation to streamline and strengthen veterans’ healthcare services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and in the community to ensure efficient, timely and quality care.

The Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 as amended was passed 14-1 by the committee. The legislation now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

At the beginning of this year, we set out to find a way to permanently enhance veterans’ access to care in their communities while also improving existing VA services. By giving veterans the option of seeking care when and where it makes the most sense for their individual needs, we are creating a force multiplier for the VA to better utilize its resources and provide even better care to veterans,” said Isakson. “This bipartisan, strong, balanced legislation would not have been possible without the input, contribution and hard work of every member of our committee, the VA and our veterans service organization partners – all of whom want to see us do right by our veterans, regardless of political party.”

“Our bill puts veterans at the center of their health care decisions and gets rid of the one-size-fits-all system that veterans face today,” said Tester. “By strengthening VA care and streamlining access to community providers, veterans will have stronger health care options. This bill shows what you can achieve when Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences, work from a place of consensus and listen to veterans. I look forward to thorough debate on this bill so veterans have a health care system that works for them.”

The Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 would establish a permanent, streamlined ‘Veterans Community Care Program’ to provide veterans with access to health care and services in their own communities. Under this legislation, a veteran and his or her doctor will decide where that veteran will receive care, taking into consideration the veteran’s healthcare needs and the availability and quality of both VA and community care.

In addition, the legislation will help improve existing VA health care and services by removing barriers for VA healthcare professionals to practice telemedicine, strengthening opioid prescription guidelines for VA and partnering community care providers, and eliminating impediments to hiring and retention of VA healthcare professionals.

The Caring for Our Veterans Act also expands eligibility for the VA's Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to veterans of all generations, including Vietnam-era veterans.

In addition to these provisions, the legislation will:

  • Authorize access to walk-in community clinics for enrolled veterans who have previously used VA healthcare services in the last two years.
  • Allow the VA to enter into agreements with community healthcare and extended care providers that easily meet veterans’ demands for care in the community. 
  • Create reporting requirements to ensure all VA and community care programs are operating efficiently and effectively based on a number of factors including veterans’ satisfaction and quality standards, among others.
  • Create standards for timely payment to community care providers.

A one-page summary of the Caring for Our Veterans Act is available here, and a section-by-section summary is available here.

The legislation is supported by The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Wounded Warrior Project.

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress.

Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.