Hoeven Continues Work to Improve Veterans Access to Care in Local Communities

FY17 VA Appropriations Bill Provides Strong Funding to Care for Nation's Veterans

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven, a member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations Committee, today announced that the Fiscal Year 2017 Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill provides strong funding to provide the nation’s veterans with the services and care they earned serving our nation. The funding legislation, which was recently passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, is part of the senator’s continuing efforts to improve health and long-term care options for veterans in their local communities.

“Our nation made a promise to care for our veterans, and this bill provides the resources to help keep that promise,” said Hoeven. “This measure includes strong funding to support health care services while also including measures to address challenges, including scheduling issues and backlogs, that veterans have faced when working with the VA. This is part of our work to ensure that veterans have access to health care, including long-term care, in their local communities.”

The legislation provides $65 billion in funding to provide treatment and medical care for 9.2 million patients. These funds will be used for programs, including:

• $7.2 billion for the new Medical Community Care account to provide non-VA care
• $250 million for Rural Health Initiatives

Additionally the bill includes provisions to:

Improve the Veterans Choice Program: A provision in the bill directs the VA to assess the experiences of VA and private sector medical providers using the Choice Program, particularly in rural areas. That includes surveying obstacles faced by providers in using the Choice program, barriers veterans encounter using the program, the role and effectiveness of the third-party administrators and recommendations for improvement.

Strengthen Care for Female Veterans: Hoeven language in the bill presses the VA to improve health care for female veterans and consider a mobile healthcare pilot program for female veterans. The pilot program is designed to fill the current gap in VA gender-specific services as the VA expands infrastructure and hires needed staff for specialty care. Currently, VA medical centers across the country lack the infrastructure to provide gender specific services, such as mammograms, ultrasounds, OB/GYN services, etc. DMS Health Technologies, which is headquartered in Fargo, and other companies, would like to partner with the VA to provide this type of gender-specific care as the VA works to expand its infrastructure to meet the growing demand.

Modernize VA Electronic Health Records: Includes $260 million to continue modernizing the VA electronic health record system. Language restricts the funding until the VA demonstrates improvements in the ability of a system to seamlessly exchange veterans’ medical data among the VA, DOD and the private sector.

Reduce Claims Processing Backlog: The bill provides strong funding to help reduce the growing backlog of disability claims and maintains strict backlog reporting requirements.

The bill was approved Thursday by the full Appropriations Committee and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

This legislation supports the senator’s efforts to improve veterans’ access to health and long-term care options in their communities. Hoeven recently secured a commitment from the VA to implement a pilot project at the Fargo VA Medical Center to address scheduling and service issues with the Veterans Choice Program. The pilot program will serve as an administrative remedy to the bureaucratic delays and confusion that veterans have experienced in North Dakota when trying to schedule appointments.

The senator is also working on the national level to pass the Veterans Choice Improvement Act, which would make needed reforms to the Veterans Choice Program to simplify and streamline the process for veterans who need to go outside of the VA to receive care from private providers. Hoeven worked to include a provision in the legislation that would facilitate greater health care services for veterans in both rural and urban communities by allowing the VA to enter into provider agreements with qualified hospital, medical, and extended care providers.