New bill makes critical improvements to the VA health care system
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Alabama’s voice on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, recently joined U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) to introduce the Veterans’ Health Empowerment, Access, Leadership, and Transparency for our Heroes (HEALTH) Act. The Veterans’ HEALTH Act would protect and expand access to care for veterans, safeguard veterans’ ability to choose their own providers, and require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve the quality of care at VA medical facilities.
“America’s veterans deserve the best care possible,” said Senator Tuberville.“VA medical facilities should provide prompt, world-class services for the 400,000 veterans in Alabama and millions across the country. This bill helps bring the VA health care system into the 21st century and promotes a culture of constant improvement for our veterans.”
In 2018, Congress passed the MISSION Act, which replaced the Veterans Choice Program with the Veterans Community Care Program. The Veterans’ HEALTH Act would codify and expand the current criteria established in the MISSION Act for determining when a veteran is eligible to receive community care and improve the way the VA educates veterans on their care options. The bill would also require greater accountability and transparency from VA leaders and staff.
The Veterans’ HEALTH Act would also require VA to take meaningful steps toward embracing innovation and value-based care to increase quality, strengthen the VA workforce, and prevent veteran suicide.
Specifically, the Veterans’ HEALTH Act would:
- Codify the current community care access standards into federal law to prevent administrations from restricting veteran choice.
- Clarify that the community care access standards include extended care services — including inpatient mental health care and residential rehabilitation substance use treatment.
- Ensure that the VA discusses telehealth with veterans as an option for care, when, and where appropriate.
- Stipulate that if a veteran and their provider determine that telehealth is in the veteran’s best medical interest to seek community care that decision is final.
- Require the VA to educate and inform veterans of their eligibility for community care in a timely manner and, if a veteran’s request for community care is denied, that veterans are informed of the reason for the denial, and how to appeal it.
- Require the VA to consider and document a veteran’s preference on when, where, and how to seek care and whether a veteran requires a caregiver or attendant to accompany them to an appointment.
- Direct VA to establish a strategic plan to transition the current VA health care system to a value-based care model, which has been shown to reduce suicide, reduce physician burnout, and improve patient outcomes.
- Create a three-year pilot program for veterans to receive mental health care and substance use treatment through community care network providers without a prior VA referral.
- Require annual assessments by the VA Inspector General about how well VA medical facilities identify veterans who are eligible for community care and provide community care in a timely manner.
- Improve staffing, accountability, and oversight of VA’s Office of Integrated Veteran Care, which oversees access in VA medical facilities and in the community.
The Veterans’ HEALTH Act is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Wounded Warrior Project, The American Legion, America’s Warrior Partnership, The Independence Fund, Concerned Veterans for America, and the National Defense Committee.
Earlier this week, Senator Tuberville joined U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to introduced another bill to expand homecare options for veterans.
As the son of a highly-decorated WWII veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Senator Tuberville is passionate about improving the way our nation treats its veterans and military families. He is proud to sit on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where he advocates for the 400,000 veterans in Alabama and millions more across the country.
Senator Tuberville consistently works to identify targeted changes that will improve how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) delivers care and benefits to veterans and service members.
During his first two years in office, Senator Tuberville successfully championed two standalone bills focused on making life easier for veterans and military families. Both bills passed with bipartisan support and were signed by President Joe Biden, a rare achievement for a freshman senator in the minority party.
- Senator Tuberville introduced legislation to correct an error on VA and Department of Defense forms to make it easier for dependents to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
- Senator Tuberville’s Supporting Families of the Fallen Act provided the first increase of maximum coverage amounts under the VA Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) since 2005 — dramatically increasing the amount from $400,000 to $500,000.
- Earlier this year, Senator Tuberville and U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) reintroduced the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act to give veterans more flexibility when making medical decisions and greater access to the free-market health care system.
- The bill would expand treatment options for veterans by taking the VA out of the community care referral process and creating a three-year pilot program that allows veterans to schedule necessary appointments at medical facilities in the VA’s network.
- Senator Tuberville advocated for veterans’ access to primary, specialty, and mental health care outside of their respective Veteran Integrated Service Networks (VSIN) and non-VA facilities to cut wait times for those who have served.
- Senator Tuberville introduced several other pieces of targeted, commonsense legislation that will make the VA work better for our veterans and their families, including:
- For two years, to recognize veterans suffering from service-related trauma, Senator Tuberville has been an original cosponsor of a resolution to officially designate National Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness Month.
Modernizing the VA
While Congress has passed wide-sweeping comprehensive legislation in the VA health care space in recent years veterans on the margins — such as rural, overseas or community care veterans — still face challenges in accessing care.
To fix this problem, Senator Tuberville joined his colleagues in introducing the Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to all Personnel who Served (GHAPS) Act to identify persistent gaps and craft innovative solutions to meet the unique needs of every veteran and to make certain all veterans receive quality and timely care.
The GHAPS Act would:
- Codify access standards for the Veterans Community Care Program.
- Create access standards for community care delivery to ensure veterans receive timely care in their own community.
- Direct the VA to create a strategic plan to ensure the Department is addressing continuity of care issues for veterans.
- Direct the VA to create a tele-health strategic plan to ensure the Department is deploying virtual care effectively, especially for rural veterans.
- Ensure all veterans with treatment-resistant depression have access to the necessary evidence-based care to put them on the path to recovery.
- Cut red tape for VA research so that veterans benefit from more timely research-informed care.
Protecting Veterans from Predatory Lawyers
- Senator Tuberville has cosponsored legislation to cap fees that trial lawyers can charge in cases representing Marines and other individuals impacted by water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
- Senator Tuberville joined this effort after receiving reports of attorney fees up to 60 percent, leaving little compensation for victims.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.