Senate GOP aims to streamline key veterans program

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A group of Senate Republicans is hoping to streamline a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program allowing veterans to receive non-VA care, suggesting that bureaucratic hurdles are keeping veterans from getting timely healthcare. 

"I’ve heard from many veterans in North Carolina who tell me that they are still experiencing significant frustrations and delay in getting health care," said Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence Polls: Dem Senate candidates lead in three states MORE (R-N.C.). "My legislation cuts down on the bureaucratic delays, hassles and confusion that is standing in between veterans and the healthcare they need."

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Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and John HoevenJohn HoevenOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto Gitmo bill GOP senators fight female draft in defense bill Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (R-N.D.) are expected to co-sponsor Burr's bill.

The wide-ranging legislation, which is expected to be introduce later on Monday, would consolidate "redundant and overlapping" programs on when veterans qualify for non-VA healthcare and instead establish one funding source for getting care outside of the department's facilities. 

The legislation would also bolster the VA’s ability to enter agreements with local non-VA healthcare companies and tackle complaints that the VA isn’t promptly reimbursing providers. Lawmakers have suggested that delays in paying private physicians can ultimately hurt a veteran’s credit score. 

The legislation would also give the VA 30 days to reimburse private healthcare providers for an electronic claim and 45 days for a paper claim, as well as require the VA to establish a web page for submitting electronic claims by Jan. 1, 2019. 

A Government Accountability Office report released earlier this year found that the VA's Veterans Health Administration (VHA) processed approximately two-thirds of payment requests on time. Auditors, however, suggested that percent was likely lower because of problems with the VA's data. 

Burr's legislation comes after lawmakers passed the Veterans Choice Program as part of a 2014 bill to overhaul the VHA amid a nation-wide scandal over allegations that VA staffers were manipulating data to downplay how long veterans were waiting for healthcare.

Under the program, veterans who either face delays in getting an appointment or live more than 40 miles away from a facility are able to get healthcare from a non-VA providers. 

While lawmakers initially praised the program, they’ve repeatedly voiced frustration that it’s failed to resolve long delays in getting a healthcare appointment or suggested the VA hasn’t correctly implemented it.

Burr added that while the Veterans Choice Program “was a good start,” Congress should take up his legislation “so that every American veteran will finally be able to rely on quality care without having to wait or drive far."

The North Carolina senator's office suggested that there had been conversations at the staff level with Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonGrassley pulling away from Dem challenger Fifteen years since pivotal executive order, STORM Act could help fight terror finance GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE's (R-Ga.) office. Isakson chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and will get to decide if his committee takes up Burr's legislation.

In addition to making changes to the Choice Program, Burr’s legislation would make the program permanent. 

The VA announced earlier this month that it would ease some of the hurdles for paying doctors under the Choice program, a move aimed at addressing reports of lengthy delays.