Growing Number of Veterans, Advocates Support Tester’s Bipartisan Veterans Health Care Reform Bill

26 Veterans and Military Service Organizations Support Tester’s Bill to Improve VA, Community Health Care

(U.S. Senate) – Veterans and advocates are throwing their support behind Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan bill to streamline the VA’s community care programs, bolster VA care for veterans and expand the VA caregiver support program to veterans of all eras.

Tester’s Caring for Our Veterans Act phases out the Choice Program while creating a single, easy-to-navigate VA community care system. It also allows the VA to invest in its medical staff and infrastructure to better serve veterans in rural areas like Montana.

Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, worked closely with Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to write the legislation with input from both veterans and caregivers, who praise Tester’s Caring for Our Veterans Act.

“We are deeply grateful for Senator Tester’s effort to improve the flexibility of the VA system to allow veterans to receive care in their community,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana. “One of the things that NAMI Montana is especially excited about in this bill is that it sets the for community care as the Medicare rate, but it authorizes the VA to pay higher rates in rural areas. This overcomes the real world challenge that happens often in the medical system of having a patient population that needs care, but having a payment reimbursement rate that is so low that the medical providers cannot pay to see them. The Caring for Our Veterans Act is a real step forward in the VA’s ability to provide healthcare to veterans whose circumstances prevent them from receiving care at VA facilities.”

“We are grateful for Senator Tester’s leadership in streamlining and modernizing community care for our veterans,” said Elaine Couture, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive of the Washington and Montana regions for Providence St. Joseph Health. “It is vitally important to create an efficient system that removes barriers currently experienced by veterans and their providers. Senator Tester’s bipartisan solution will help veterans living in rural areas get timely care in the best setting.”

“As always, I want to thank Senator Tester for being a champion for veterans and caregivers,” said Sarah Martinez, Caregiver and Montana Fellow of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “The VA caregiver program has been a blessing for many post 9/11 veterans and their families but, more services and support are needed. All of our pre-9/11 veterans and caregivers deserve the same support from the VA caregiver program. They have been on their own for far too long!   The Caring for Our Veterans Act is a huge step in the right direction to take care of veterans and caregivers of ALL eras.”

A growing number of advocates and Veterans Service Organizations representing millions of veterans across the nation support Tester’s Caring for Our Veterans Act.

A group of 26 veterans and military service organizations wrote, “On behalf of the millions of veterans we represent, and all veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, we write to urge you to take whatever actions are necessary to swiftly bring to the floor and pass S. 2193, the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017… This legislation would build on current community care programs by putting an end to arbitrary standards for when veterans may receive community care and by consolidating the disparate community care programs into one program. We are pleased this legislation would empower veterans and their health care providers to work together to determine when and where veterans should receive care based on access and quality measures.”

“This bill, as written, would transform the Veterans Affairs Choice Program into a new community care system that will provide better services and health care to our nations veterans,” said Denise Rohan, National Commander of The American Legion. “The American Legion applauds [Sen. Tester’s] leadership in addressing issues that are important to America’s servicemembers, veterans, and their families. We are thankful for the dedicated work [Sen. Tester’s] committee has done in addressing the Choice Program shortfalls and developing a new community care system. We stand with you in your efforts to pass meaningful legislation that supports our nation’s heroes.”

“On behalf of Disabled American Veterans and our 1.3 million members, we are pleased to offer our strong support for [Sen. Tester’s] draft legislation, the Caring for our Veterans Act of 2017, which would strengthen and reform the VA health care system and create a new integrated VA community care program,” said Garry Augustine, Executive Director of the Disabled American Veterans. “We are pleased the draft legislation [Sen. Tester] skillfully crafted would replace the current Choice program by creating integrated networks with community providers, supplementing VA’s comprehensive system of care, to ensure that veterans receive necessary medical care when and where they need it…. I want to commend both [Senator Tester and Isakson] and your staffs for working in a bipartisan manner to develop legislation that would dramatically improve VA and its community care programs. I urge all senators to support passage of this legislation.”

“On behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s more than 400,000 members, I am pleased to offer our support for the bipartisan Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017,” said Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Founder and CEO. “We greatly appreciate your committee working with, and soliciting input from, leading Veteran Service Organizations to get us to this point. We are pleased that the bill responsibly invests in upgrading VA’s health care system and puts the veteran’s needs first by empowering the VA to coordinate patient care wherever it can best be delivered.”

“As the nation's largest and most influential association of military officers and the leading voice for all members of the military community, MOAA greatly appreciates your steadfast commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of our veterans and their families,” said Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF, President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America. “We lend our support for your bill and recognize the enormous bipartisan effort put forth to craft such a significant piece of legislation. This will improve veterans' health care while also providing a solid plan for transforming the VA into a 21st Century health system.”

“With the alarmingly high rate of veteran suicides, especially in rural states, NAMI applauds the bipartisan effort to provide veterans more care in the community led by Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester,” said Emily Blair, Manager of Military and Veterans Policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Specifically, NAMI appreciates the provision to increase access for veterans to walk-in care through connecting VA’s community care network and FQHCs. NAMI applauds Sen. Tester’s provision specifically, to include Vet Center clinicians in VA’s education debt reduction program — ensuring more mental health providers at VA in the most needed areas. NAMI also applauds Sen. Murray’s advocacy to include the expansion of the family caregiver program at VA — ensuring all veteran caregivers caring for a veteran of any service era are able to qualify for this important program.”

“This legislation would significantly enhance and reform the VA and enable a single integrated community care program,” said Carl Blake, Interim Executive Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The proposed legislation is the logical next step to finally solidify the ways in which VA provides care in the community and provide the necessary tools to keep pace with the needs of our nation’s heroes. … We applaud you for your bipartisan work to ensure veterans have access to the highest quality health care in a timely manner and in the most appropriate setting. We thank the members of the committee and their staffs for listening to our input and working together to produce a commendable piece of legislation.”

“The Veterans of Foreign Wars lauds Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester for reaching a bipartisan and comprehensive compromise on the future of VA community care that will ensure veterans receive timely access to high quality, comprehensive and veteran-centric care,” said Bob Wallace, Veterans of Foreign Wars Executive Director. “We look forward to working with the committee to ensure swift passage of this important bill.”

“Vietnam Veterans of American stands behind The Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017—a bill which will go a long way towards improving access and the quality care for our nation’s veterans,” said John Rowan, National President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America.

“We sincerely appreciate the spirit of bipartisanship and inclusiveness reflected in this bill and applaud your commitment to expanding options for care in the community and strengthening the resources available at the VA to help meet growing demand for care,” said René Baldorf, Senior Vice President of Government and Community Relations of the Wounded Warrior Project. “Overall, the bill is consistent with WWP’s support for a strong, integrated health system that provides timely access to the best possible care. …WWP would like to express our sincere gratitude for your leadership and commitment to serving and working diligently on behalf of our nation’s veterans, family members, and caregivers to solve very challenging and complex problems.”

Tester’s Caring for Our Veterans Act recently cleared a key legislative hurdle and is now awaiting debate and consideration on the Senate floor.