Washington, DC – This morning, Congressman Pearce met with Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the Veterans Choice Program and its benefits for veterans who live in rural and underserved communities. Later today, the House will vote on the VA MISSION Act, which will end the Veterans Choice Program entirely. The meeting centered around Congressman Pearce's concern with ending the Veterans Choice Program and the impact that would have on access to care.
"As a veteran from a rural community, I know firsthand the challenges veterans in rural and underserved communities face accessing the quality healthcare they need and deserve," said Pearce. "While not perfect, the Veterans Choice Program has created a sense of certainty and clarity for these veterans. The changes made within the VA MISSION Act not only end the Veterans Choice Program, but sets in motion an entirely new process to provide all veterans with care. From the start, I have been uncertain that a new process is what our veterans need to safeguard their access to care, however, I believe it is essential to engage in any discussion that will impact veterans."
The meeting took place in Congressman Pearce's Washington, D.C. office. In addition to Acting Secretary Wilkie, Rep. Pearce was joined by three other Members of Congress, two of whom are combat veterans, who also have concerns with the VA MISSION Act.
"This morning's meeting with Acting Secretary Wilkie was a very productive one," continued Pearce. "I appreciate the Acting Secretary's willingness to discuss my very real concerns with the VA MISSION Act. During our hour-long meeting, I not only heard about the near and long-term goals this bill sets to achieve, but was given assurances that my office will be involved in every aspect of the reforms taking place. Though questions remain about the Department's ability to fully implement the significant reforms in this bill, I left the meeting with a greater understanding on how the Administration wants to change the culture and failures within the VA.
"Ultimately, my vote this afternoon will come down to one thing: will this bill increase access to care within the VA to ensure rural and underserved veterans receive the services they were promised."
Today, the House of Representatives will debate and vote on S. 2372, the VA MISSION Act of 2018. This legislation undertakes a massive reform of the VA. Primarily, the bill will consolidate all community care programs into one overarching care program. It will establish an Asset and Infrastructure Review process to oversee the modernization of the VA's facilities. Finally, VA MISSION Act will end the Veterans Choice Program at the end of 2019, among other reforms.
The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (Veteran Choice Program or Choice) of 2014, was enacted on August 7, 2014 only after it was uncovered that many veterans died while waiting for access to care. The Veterans Choice Program was implemented in response to the uncovering of a secret waitlists and veterans unable to access medical care at VA facilities. Choice was ultimately enacted to improve the access of eligible veterans to health care through non-Department institutions and providers.
The two main eligibility criteria for Choice are (1) living outside of a 40-mile driving distance from a VA Medical Facility or (2) having to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment. The authority to develop eligibility criteria for veterans to use non-VA entities and providers shifts to the VA's control under the VA MISSION Act. This bill ultimately "sunsets," or eliminates, the Veteran Choice Program 1 year from the date of its enactment.