Isakson, Tester Applaud House Committee Approval of Landmark Legislation to Improve Veterans’ Community Care

Measure includes Isakson, Tester VA community care legislation

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 U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ approval of bipartisan legislation that will strengthen veterans’ healthcare services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) while streamlining its community care programs to ensure efficient, timely and quality care.

H.R.5674, the Department of Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks, or VA MISSION Act, would build on Isakson and Tester’s Caring for Our Veterans Act to consolidate and improve VA community care programs, improve VA’s ability to hire high-quality healthcare professionals, expand VA caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras, and establish a process to evaluate and reform VA’s existing facilities to best serve veterans.

The bill also authorizes and appropriates funding for the VA to continue the Veterans Choice Program for one year while the new, streamlined Veterans Community Care Program is implemented. Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie notified Congress this week that funding for the program will run out as early as May 31, 2018.

“I commend Chairman Roe and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for passing legislation to streamline the VA’s community care programs, improve critical services provided by the VA and ensure veterans continue to have access to efficient, timely and quality health care,” said Isakson. “This legislation consolidates the VA’s seven community care programs into one streamlined program to improve efficiency and help remove barriers to care for veterans. This bill also makes important reforms to the VA caregivers program while expanding access to veterans of all eras. I applaud the bipartisan action taken today by the House committee, and I’m hopeful Congress can pass this legislation without delay.”

“This bill is the product of hard work, bipartisan compromise and the input of our nation’s veterans,” said Tester. “Congress must act now to reform the broken Choice Program, address the VA’s crippling workforce shortages, protect rural health clinics, and ensure we do right by veterans and their caregivers. I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build more bipartisan support for this bill.”

The VA MISSION Act 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 with community care providers, and eliminating impediments to hiring and retention of VA healthcare professionals.

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

The VA MISSION Act builds on the Caring for Our Veterans Act, S.2193, introduced by Isakson and Tester and passed by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in November 2017. A significant portion of this measure comes from Isakson and Tester’s bipartisan community care legislation.

The bipartisan legislation has received broad support from leading veterans groups that represent millions of veterans in the United States. A group of 38 veteran and military advocacy organizations wrote to the House and Senate in support of the VA MISSION Act. Read a copy of the letter here.

The VA MISSION Act was passed by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in a vote of 20-2. It now advances to the full U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.