UPDATE JUNE 6, 2018: President Trump signed the VA Mission Act designed to increase veterans’ access to timely and private health care. The new VA law aims to combine and expand existing community care programs during the next year with intentions to roll out one centralized community care program next May.
Building off the positive changes enacted by the Choice Program, which was created in 2014 after two veterans died waiting for appointments, the Mission Act broadens the circumstances for which veterans can receive non-VA health care. Presently, veterans can seek third-party medical care if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or if they must wait over 30 days for an appointment. The Mission Act will also allow veterans access to non-VA health care if they are in need of a service the VA does not offer or if their doctor thinks it is in the best interest of the patient.
With access to non-VA health care becoming more accessible, some lawmakers became fearful the new law would undermine the VA. The Mission Act recognizes this potential and includes incentives and funding to ensure the Act does not drive veterans away from the VA. The order will boost funding to allow the VA to hire more health care professionals in addition to offering scholarships to medical students willing to work for the VA.
Additionally, the new measure will help pre-9/11 veterans by giving them benefits to help cover the cost of in-home caregivers. Post-9/11 veterans already have access to such benefits. These benefits offer an alternative to institutionalized health care and will help take some of the cost of local governments.
While the Mission Act passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate with bi-partisan support in May 2018, there is a debate on exactly how the measure will be funded after May 2019. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is working across party lines in both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Veteran’s Affairs Committee to help establish the best possible funding plan for the VA Mission Act.