Hoeven Offers Language to Clarify Local Access Provision in Veterans Affairs Legislation

Senator’s Change Makes Clear Vets Can Access Local Services When Unavailable at Nearby VA Facility

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven has proposed language to the new bipartisan Veterans Affairs (VA) legislation that makes clear that veterans can access a nearby health care provider if their local VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) or VA Medical Center (VAMC) cannot provide the required service.

Hoeven is working to build bipartisan support for compromise VA legislation being crafted by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). The senators have agreed in principle on a bill that would reform the Veterans Affairs Administration and make it easier for veterans to get health care services in their local communities. The legislation combines McCain’s Veterans Choice Act, which Hoeven is cosponsoring, with Sander’s Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act.

The McCain-Sanders bill allows veterans to choose where they receive health care. If the VA cannot schedule an appointment for a veteran within their wait-time performance standard or the veteran resides more than 40 miles from any VA medical center (VAMC) or CBOC, the veteran can choose to receive care from the doctor or provider of their choice.

Hoeven has been pushing to get the VA to allow veterans in western North Dakota to use local health care providers when the CBOC cannot provide a necessary service. To ensure that the compromise legislation does that, he is offering language that clarifies the VA measure by making the option of using a local health care provider service-based, meaning that if a service is not offered within 40 miles or at the local veterans facility, the veteran can access a local provider.

“It is the intent of the compromise legislation to make sure veterans can access health care locally when wait times are long or distances make getting necessary services a hardship,” Hoeven said. “The language I am proposing makes clear that a veteran can get health care services locally if a nearby veterans health care facility can’t provide them.”

The compromise legislation also includes provisions to improve accountability and transparency at the VA, including provisions to reform the way performance reviews are used and to make more information available to patients and the public.

Since Fiscal Year 2009, funding for the VA has increased by 60 percent. At the same time, the VA has carried over a share of its budget in recent years, including $450 million it expects to carry over in Fiscal Year 2015. Further, Congress explicitly exempted the VA from sequestration, and the VA’s medical care accounts receive advanced appropriations to ensure predictability and proper planning.

The Veterans Choice Act is supported by a number of veterans service organizations, including the American Legion, Amvets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (IAVA) and Concerned Veterans for America.