Upton, House pass Veteran Access to Care Act
Upton is original cosponsor of bipartisan bill to immediately expand veteran access to medical care outside VA health system
Following recent reports of severe mismanagement and a lack of accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. House of Representatives today passed bipartisan legislation to expand veteran access to medical care outside of the VA health system. Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is an original cosponsor of the Veteran Access to Care Act (H.R. 4810), which passed by a unanimous vote of 426 to 0 and now awaits further consideration in the U.S. Senate.
“The brave men and women of our Armed Forces have sacrificed so much, putting their lives on the line to keep the nation safe and secure. As veterans, they deserve nothing less than the best quality care – they’ve earned it,” said Upton.
“A nationwide audit finding that 57,000 of our veterans have been waiting more than 90 days for an appointment, and that an additional 64,000 have fallen through the cracks, is just unacceptable and we need a fix right away. The Veteran Access to Care Act expands veteran access to medical care in the private sector if they are unable to get it within the VA system. This legislation provides immediate relief now until a thorough investigation and overhaul of the VA can be completed.”
H.R. 4810 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter contracts with non-VA facilities to provide care for veterans who: 1) reside more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility; 2) have waited longer than the time goals established by VA for a medical appointment; or 3) have been notified by VA that an appointment is not available within the Department’s current wait-time goals. Non-VA providers must be reimbursed by the Secretary at the greatest of the following rates: the rate of reimbursement under VA; the rate of reimbursement under Medicare; or the rate of reimbursement under TRICARE.
The Veteran Access to Care Act also requires the Secretary to contract with an independent entity to conduct an assessment of the health care provided in VA medical facilities; report the findings and recommendations of the assessment to Congress; and submit a report on the assessment, including an action plan and timeline for full implementation of the assessment’s recommendations.
Lastly, H.R. 4810 eliminates performance awards and bonuses for all VA employees through Fiscal Year 2016.
Upton was part of bipartisan group of House Members who sent a letter to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson last week, urging the Department to immediately expand fee-basis care to any veteran awaiting medical care in the VA health system. Fee-basis care allows veterans to see private-sector medical providers and is currently used by the VA on a limited basis to help address capacity shortfalls.
Southwest Michigan veterans having difficulties with their benefits or in seeking medical care are encouraged to contact Upton’s constituent service offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039) and St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986) for immediate assistance.