Hoeven: Congress Approves $3.3 Billion to Fill VA Shortfall, Reforms Choice Act to Improve Vets' Access to Local Care

Senator Says Access to Community Care for Veterans Act Still Needed

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today said Congress has approved a $3.3 billion fix to fill a shortfall in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget. The same measure reforms parts of last year’s Choice Act and improves access to health care services for veterans, but Congress still needs to pass the Access to Community Care for Veterans Act.

The veterans’ measures were included in the highway bill extension that passed Thursday to give Congress time to finalize a long-term transportation bill.

“While filling the VA funding shortfall and reforming the Choice Act will help provide better access to primary care for some veterans, other veterans will still have to make long drives for services like physical therapy and diagnostic imaging,” Hoeven said. “These are good first steps, but there’s more to do here. To fully fix the Choice program, we need to pass the Access to Community Care for Veterans Act, which will allow veterans who live within 40 miles of a VA clinic that doesn’t offer necessary services to seek care from a local provider.”

Reforms to the Choice Act in the highway extension bill include provisions that will:

  • Allow veterans who live within 40 miles of a VA community-based outpatient clinic (CBOC) that does not have a full-time physician on staff to access primary care services through the program. With current staffing levels at this time, it appears that veterans residing within 40 miles of Williston, Dickinson, Devils Lake, Jamestown and Minot, would qualify for the Choice program under the new rule and be eligible to receive primary care services in their local communities.
  • Expand eligibility for more veterans to access the Choice program by eliminating the requirement for a veteran to have been enrolled in the VA health care system by August 1, 2014.
  • Expand the number of non-VA providers who are allowed to participate in the Choice Program by allowing VA to include Medicaid providers and other providers as appropriate.
  • Allow VA to waive the wait time criteria for a veteran in need of an appointment but unable to schedule one prior to 30 days based on clinical necessity.

Additional features of the bill that will benefit veterans include provisions that will:

  • Exclude veterans and service members with existing health coverage from being counted as employees under Obamacare’s employer mandate (Part of the Hire More Heroes Act, which Hoeven cosponsored).
  • Allow service-connected veterans to contribute tax-free to health savings accounts.

In May, the Senate passed the Access to Community Care for Veterans Act, introduced by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and cosponsored by Hoeven and a bipartisan group of senators. The legislation amends the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act) to allow veterans to obtain health care services in their local community if a Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center or CBOC within 40 miles can’t provide the necessary care. The measure still needs to be taken up by the House.

Hoeven has worked for two years to pass legislation to fix the issue of access for veterans.