Veterans saw a number of health care provisions signed into law in 2018, the most notable being the VA MISSION Act.
Many MOAA members and other veterans want to know what's been done to implement the law's provisions and what improvements they can expect to see in 2019.
First, let's recap what's happened since the MISSION Act was signed into law on June 6, 2018:
- Secretary Robert Wilkie takes the helm at VA on July 30, filling a four-month gap in the agency with no confirmed chief executive.
- A month later, the secretary holds his first meeting with military and veteran organization leaders like MOAA, conveying just how “serious President Donald Trump is about getting the VA right for veterans” and laying out his vision and strategy for improving access to health care and benefits, customer service, and systemic business problems throughout the organization.
- VA quietly begins implementing the MISSION Act in August, including setting up a structure for a new, streamlined community care program to replace the Choice Program, expanding caregiver support programs and services, improving veterans' access to health whether in VA or in the community, increasing access to telehealth programs, and establishing walk-in health care services with local community providers.
- VA rolls out information to veterans and providers in early September on how they can access community care and to stay current on the new community care program.
- Later that month, the president signs a massive spending package to fund the VA in FY 2019. That legislation also funds the new provisions in the MISSION Act.
- VA implements website and health system upgrades in November to improve customer service and establish a health system governance structure as part of the agency's transformation efforts.
- Secretary Wilkie reports his agency's progress in implementing the MISSION Act at a joint hearing before the Senate and House veterans' affairs committees in December, resulting in lawmakers voicing their concerns about VA's ability to meet upcoming deadlines, particularly setting up access standards and establishing a robust provider network (the foundation for the new community care program) as well implementing the IT system required for expanding program services for VA's comprehensive caregiver support program.
- VA announces the award of three of what will eventually include six community care network contracts, allowing the department to purchase care to allow veterans access to health care services closer to home.
What can veterans expect in 2019? According to officials, VA expects to:
- Award the region four contract in early April and award regions five and six by the end of 2019. This would provide for a network of health care throughout the U.S. and its territories.
- Meet the June deadline to end the Choice Program as we know it and have the new community care program up and running. This means VA will be using new, simpler access standards for veterans to get care in the community, including access to new walk-in services for urgent care using retail providers.
- Certify a new caregiver IT tracking system to better manage the care and services delivered through VA. The secretary must notify Congress by October that he has certified the system and that it is in place before the current program of comprehensive caregiver support services can move forward and be expanded over the next two years to veterans of all eras.
The challenges are known. There is a lot of work ahead and not a lot of time to implement the MISSION Act requirements mandated in law - only five months to fully implement the new community care program and nine months to certify the caregiver IT system. No doubt, it's an enormous lift for VA to get across the goal line.
Fortunately, lawmakers, MOAA, and other veteran and stakeholder groups stand behind officials and the administration to do all we can to help VA succeed in getting the system right for veterans and making it easier for them to get the care when and where they need it. MOAA will continue to report on VA's progress in implementing the MISSION Act as more information becomes available.