A Major VA Health Care Reform Bill Has Advanced in Congress

A Major VA Health Care Reform Bill Has Advanced in Congress

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Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Digital Content Manager. She can be reached at ginah@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

Next week, the full House is expected to vote on a massive reform bill that would fund the VA Choice program as a new community care program that could significantly increase veterans' access to care.  While MOAA and other veteran organizations have been pressing for a bipartisan, bicameral support for the new bill called the VA Mission Act, we need the added engagement of our members to make sure the bill passes the House, and to send a signal to the Senate to do the same.  Please send House lawmakers this MOAA-suggested message today.

Earlier this week, MOAA reported members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs passed a 20:2 vote to send to the full House. If passed, the legislation would streamline VA's existing community care programs and expand caregiver benefits to those of all eras. It also gives the VA Choice program, which would be phased out and replaced over the next year, a $5.2 billion boost. That program was slated to run out of money by the end of the month.

MOAA and 37 other veteran groups sent a joint letter to leaders with the House and Senate veterans' affairs committees in support of the bill. 

"It's been a long road of perseverance these last two years with veterans groups working closely with the administration, VA leadership, and lawmakers to reach this monumental moment,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret). “It is our hope the leadership in the House and Senate passes this critical measure so it can be signed into law before the end of the fiscal year to continue the progress made over these many months to improve and strengthen VA's health system."

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said the VA Mission Act will build a stronger VA. 

“This is a transformational, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform VA, and I am so proud of the strong support this bill received in today's markup,” he said. “President Trump has called on Congress to pass this bill before Memorial Day, and today's vote gets us one step closer to the president's desk.” 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the legislation will transform the VA into “a modern, high-performing, and integrated health care system that will ensure our veterans receive the best healthcare possible from the VA.” That will be true whether the care is delivered in the VA's own facilities or in a veteran's community, she added. 

The bill would cost $51 billion over a five-year period, according to preliminary estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, Stars and Stripes reported.

Committee Democrats say the bill doesn't properly fund the VA's private-sector care programs, according to Stripes. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., voted against the VA Mission Act. 

“Put simply, the VA Mission Act, a policy designed to create a permanent solution for VA community care, lacks a sustainable source of funding to ensure that care is provided and protected in the long term,” Walz said, according to the paper.

The House and Senate could vote on the massive reform bill within weeks. It's expected to pass in the House, but MOAA's sources on Capitol Hill say the bill could face hurdles in the Senate as some lawmakers push for a sustainable funding source for VA health care. A federal VA union is also pressing to block the bill, citing the need for Congress to focus on current workforce and infrastructure needs instead of pushing more care into local communities. 

Also passed out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday were a bill that could offer VA care to more blue-water Navy Vietnam veterans and a veterans opioid abuse prevention act, which could lead to more research on the use of medical marijuana to treat veterans.