Avoid political games with crucial VA reform bill

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The Trump administration and Congress are closer than they have been to completing a 2016 campaign promise to pass legislation that improves the health care delivered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the VA MISSION Act, a package of reforms that has been stalled for months and which was meant to be a part of this spring’s omnibus spending bill but was unfortunately blocked by House Democrats.

Most importantly, the bill would stabilize the Veterans Choice Program (VCP), a program created following the 2014 VA wait list scandal that erupted after VA facilities across the country were found to have been covering up unacceptably long wait times. The program allows veterans to see care providers outside the VA under certain circumstances, such as when the VA can’t deliver care on a certain timeline or when VA facilities are too far away. But the standards by which veterans can take advantage of the program are too arbitrary, making it difficult for the department to predict costs.

The VCP was well-meaning but it needs to be fixed and expanded to ensure veterans are getting the care they deserve.

Due to the VA’s inability to properly track its levels of spending, the program is once again set to run out of money as soon as the end of the month. The MISSION Act would plug the funding gap and standardize when and how veterans can access community health providers, making the costs more predictable for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Furthermore, the legislation would streamline the payment process to outside care providers, which would ensure that veterans aren’t getting unnecessary bills for health care they shouldn’t have to pay for.

These reforms have enjoyed broad, bipartisan support and are backed by dozens of veterans’ groups. They will help veterans receive the quality, timely care we promised them when they put on a uniform and served our country.

Yet these provisions have been subject to stall tactics in Congress for months, despite careful negotiations to ensure that the legislative language has the support of the VA, White House and both chambers of Congress. When the House Veterans Affairs Committee considered the MISSION Act earlier this month, members voted 20-2 to send it to the House floor for a vote. One of the two dissenters was Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who tried numerous times to amend the bill – at one point even attempting to replace it in whole with another bill he’d already voted against.

Walz has signaled support in the past for much of the contents of the MISSION Act, but opposed including it in the spring spending bill and again chose to vote against the whole package in the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Thankfully, the wider committee and the House recognize that this bipartisan deal is a must-pass with the funding deadline approaching, and that it’s as close to a consensus bill as there can be in Washington.

More importantly, every day a bill like this sits in Congress is a day a veteran remains stuck without access to high-quality care in their community.

Later this week, following likely passage in the House, it will be the Senate’s turn to consider the MISSION Act. With only a few legislative days remaining before recess, senators from both sides of the aisle should avoid political games and get this bill passed swiftly.

The MISSION Act does not solve all the major problems that plague the VA, but it will go a long way towards stabilizing the VA’s health care system. That makes it worthy of support and Congress should send this critical bill to the president’s desk before Memorial Day.

Dan Caldwell is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.

Tags MISSION Act Tim Walz Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Administration scandal

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