SHAHEEN, AYOTTE INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO PROTECT NEW HAMPSHIRE VETERANS CHOICE CARD PROGRAM

New Hampshire Senators oppose Administration’s intent to cut funding from Veterans Choice Card program Bipartisan legislation directs VA to make improved health care options for New Hampshire veterans permanent

February 06, 2015

(Washington, DC) – In a letter this week to President Barack Obama, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) expressed opposition to a provision in the administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget that seeks to cut funding from the Veterans Choice Card program. The senators urged the president to faithfully implement the expanded health care options for New Hampshire veterans included in the 2014 bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act.  

Shaheen and Ayotte, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, worked to include a provision in the VA reform bill that allows New Hampshire veterans the option to seek care from local non-VA healthcare providers in New Hampshire, rather than requiring them to travel long distances to receive VA services out of state. The senators have expressed concerns with VA’s initial roll-out of the Choice Card program in New Hampshire, which they said has caused confusion among veterans seeking to use the program.

“We are disappointed that the administration is attempting to cut funding from a program that was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support and that has not yet been properly implemented,” the Senators wrote. “The administration’s proposal to defund the Veterans Choice Fund jeopardizes veterans’ access to care and undermines the principle at the heart of the program – veterans’ ability to choose where they receive care. We will oppose all efforts to reduce funding for this worthy program, and we urge the administration to follow through on its commitment to improve care for our veterans and fully implement the Choice Card program as Congress intended.”

The senators also announced today that they have introduced bipartisan legislation to protect the Choice Card program for the state’s veterans. Under current law, the Choice Card program is authorized for three years or until its $10 billion dollar initial funding allocation is exhausted. Shaheen and Ayotte’s new legislation would make the program permanent for veterans living in states without a full service hospital, like New Hampshire. 

“For far too long, New Hampshire’s veterans have been at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to accessing health care services,” Shaheen and Ayotte said. “The provisions we included in the VA reform bill correct that inequity and, for the first time, give Granite State veterans the option to receive care closer to home. Our legislation would make that fix permanent so New Hampshire veterans continue to be able to receive the timely, accessible care they have earned and deserve.”

The full text of Shaheen and Ayotte’s letter to President Obama is below. The text of their legislation is available here.

February 4, 2015

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, District of Columbia 20500-0003

Dear President Obama:

We write in opposition to a provision in the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request that seeks to strip funding from the newly created Veterans Choice Card program.  Congress created the Choice Card program on a strong bipartisan basis in response to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) failures to ensure that veterans received timely and quality care, and we are deeply troubled that the administration is proposing to cut funding from this program only months into its implementation.

The waitlist manipulation scandal last year exposed widespread mismanagement at the VA that resulted in veterans being denied care.  That is why Congress took action and passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-136), which created the Veterans Choice Card program in order to allow veterans to seek non-VA care.  Congress also provided an additional $5 billion for the VA to better serve veterans by hiring more doctors and nurses. 

While the VA provides excellent care in many circumstances, it has also failed tens of thousands of veterans who were not even able to schedule an appointment.  As such, it is troubling that the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request seeks to reduce veterans’ access to non-VA care by shifting funds out of the Choice Card program.  As the budget request states, the law directed that this funding be deposited in the Veterans Choice Fund to be used to provide non-VA care to eligible veterans at their election.  Reducing Choice Card resources available to veterans will narrow their options and reduce access to the care they seek.  That is unacceptable and inconsistent with congressional intent. 

We are concerned that this budget proposal is just the latest example of the administration’s reluctance to implement the Choice Card program as Congress intended.  We hear from New Hampshire veterans on a daily basis who are attempting to navigate the Choice Card program, but are unable to receive care because of misinformation and bureaucratic obstacles.  We are disappointed that the administration is attempting to cut funding from a program that was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support and that has not yet been properly implemented. 

The administration’s proposal to defund the Veterans Choice Fund jeopardizes veterans’ access to care and undermines the principle at the heart of the program— veterans’ ability to choose where they receive care.  We will oppose all efforts to reduce funding for this worthy program, and we urge the administration to follow through on its commitment to improve care for our veterans and fully implement the Choice Card program as Congress intended.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.