New Hampshire Delegation Reiterates Concerns to VA Over Policy that Prevents Veterans From Accessing Care to Address Chronic Pain

July 23, 2020

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), joined by U.S. Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, reiterated concerns over a change in policy at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that limits veterans’ ability to access non-drug related therapies, such as muscle massage services and acupuncture, which can help veterans experiencing chronic pain.

“A 2014 study by the National Institutes of Health found that more than half of all U.S. veterans surveyed experienced pain in the previous three months,” the New Hampshire congressional delegation wrote in their letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “If not properly treated, pain can significantly reduce a veteran’s quality of life. While often managed with opioids, this approach carries with it a higher risk of substance use disorder, and is of particular concern for New Hampshire, which has the third highest death rate in the country for overdoses involving opioids. We encourage the VA to ensure coverage for evidence-based treatment for chronic pain, which can be an important tool for veterans to manage pain without the use of powerful opioids.”

The delegation continued, “As we have previously noted in hearings and discussions with your staff, recent changes in VA policy have made it more difficult for veterans in New Hampshire and around the country to access non-drug pain therapies, especially muscle massages. A provider must conduct an initial assessment of the veteran’s needs, then follow up after eight visits with a new communication to the VA that those therapies are still needed. This additional step places a significant bureaucratic burden on small local providers and may result in disruptions to care for the veteran. Additionally, the change in policy and insufficient communication with veterans and providers has led to confusion regarding the new policy and how it is being implemented.” 

In their letter, the delegation asks the VA questions about why it implemented such changes, as well as what outreach it did to consult veterans and providers prior to the changes, and what outreach it is conducting to veterans and providers now regarding the policy.

In May, Senators Shaheen and Hassan joined their colleagues in introducing legislation to ensure that veterans and their representatives have 48 hours to review and dispute disability claims before they are finalized to make sure that veterans don’t lose out on the benefits that they have earned and deserve. The Senators are also pushing the VA to strengthen New Hampshire veterans’ access to telehealth as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.

Read the full letter from the delegation here.