Hoeven, Secretary Wilkie Review Fargo VA, Local HBOT Facility, Work to Expand Veteran Access to Care

Senator Highlights Efforts to Improve Access to Alternative PTSD Treatments, Ensure Timely Appointments with Local Providers & Provide LTC Closer to Home

FARGO, N.D. – At the Fargo Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System and a local hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) clinic today, Senator John Hoeven, along with Senator Kevin Cramer, highlighted to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie efforts to expand veteran access to care. Hoeven’s work includes:

  • Improving access to alternative treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like HBOT, part of the senator’s efforts to improve suicide prevention and mental health care for veterans.
  • Ensuring timely appointments for veterans with local health care providers under the Veteran Community Care Program.
  • Enabling more long-term care (LTC) providers to accept veteran patients.

Hoeven invited Wilkie to the state during a meeting in his Washington D.C. office and has worked with the secretary as a member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Committee to advance these priorities.

“The staff of the Fargo VA work hard every day to ensure veterans can access the care they need, and we appreciate the opportunity to highlight their efforts to Secretary Wilkie, especially as Dr. Weintraub steps in as its new director,” said Hoeven. “We continue working to maintain the local VA’s record of success, including under the HBOT demonstration program we brought to this region. Our veterans deserve every opportunity to improve their health and well-being, and we want to make sure this program works well for those who have yet to benefit from treatment for PTSD. At the same time, we’ve continued to advance better access to health care and long-term care in veterans’ home communities, and today’s visit allowed us to further highlight the need for timely appointments with local providers and streamlined regulations for LTC facilities, consistent with CMS’s rules.”

Making Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Available to Veterans

Following his efforts over the past year, Hoeven recently secured an expansion of the VA’s HBOT clinical demonstration program to include the Fargo VA, the fifth such location in the nation, making this alternative treatment for PTSD available to veterans in North Dakota and western Minnesota. The local VA is partnering with Healing with Hyperbarics of North Dakota, the facility that Hoeven and Wilkie toured today.

The senator continues his efforts with the VA to ensure the demonstration program works for the state’s veterans and that those who have yet to receive positive outcomes from traditional treatments will benefit. Additionally, along with Senator Kevin Cramer, Hoeven introduced the TBI and PTSD Treatment Act, legislation that would add HBOT as a covered treatment for both PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Timely Appointments & Improved Access to Local Providers

Last year, Hoeven helped pass the VA MISSION Act to better enable veterans to access health care in their home communities. The legislation reformed the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) into the Veterans Community Care Program, expanded caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras and removed the arbitrary 30-day/40-mile rule, allowing veterans to get the care they need without traveling long distances or taking additional time off from work. 

Moving forward, the senator is working with the Fargo VA and TriWest, the third party administrator, to ensure veterans’ appointments with local providers are scheduled promptly, after hearing from veterans and providers about delays due to complications during the program’s rollout. To this end, Hoeven highlighted to Wilkie the success of the Veterans Care Coordination initiative, something the senator also outlined to the secretary during his confirmation process last year. The senator worked to implement the initiative at the Fargo VA to address scheduling issues under the VCP, and it was subsequently expanded to multiple sites around the country. 

Hoeven stressed to Wilkie the need to empower the Fargo VA to address community care scheduling delays in a similar fashion. This follows a commitment Hoeven secured from TriWest to maintain the Fargo VA initiative.

Receiving LTC Closer to Home

The VA MISSION Act also included key provisions of Hoeven’s Veterans Access to Long Term Care and Health Services Act, legislation that allows the VA to enter into Veterans Care Agreements (VCAs) with qualified long-term care facilities. Following its passage, Hoeven has worked to ensure the VCAs enable more LTC providers to accept veteran patients. Currently, only about 20 percent of North Dakota’s nursing homes contract with the VA, which is due to burdensome contracting and reporting requirements.

Accordingly, the senator is pressing Wilkie and the administration to give qualified LTC providers only one set of regulations, matching the standards under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). By removing the existing redundant layers of review, more long-term care providers would be able to serve veterans.