SHAHEEN, AYOTTE: VA REFORM BILL WILL IMPROVE ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE FOR NEW HAMPSHIRE VETERANS

Compromise bill includes Shaheen-Ayotte provision to address health care inequities faced by NH veterans, contains critical reforms to boost VA accountability

July 29, 2014

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today announced that compromise legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) includes a provision they authored that addresses a long-standing inequity in New Hampshire veterans’ access to health care by allowing them to seek care from non-VA providers. The bill also includes measures to strengthen accountability and transparency at the department in response to the recent mismanagement scandal. On Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Jeff Miller (FL-1) announced that a compromise agreement had been reached on VA reform legislation. The Senate is expected to take up the bill in the coming days.

“For too long, New Hampshire veterans have been forced to travel long distances to access VA health care, and they deserve better,” said Shaheen and Ayotte. “The compromise bill includes a provision we fought for that will finally give New Hampshire veterans the choice of receiving care from a private provider instead of being forced to travel hours to seek care at VA facilities. We hope both the House and Senate take up this bill and send it to the President as quickly as possible.”

The bill would allow veterans to receive care from a non-VA provider if a veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or if the VA cannot provide the requested appointment within VA wait-time goals. An additional provision Shaheen and Ayotte worked to include would give veterans the option of seeking care from a non-VA provider if they reside in a state without a full-service medical facility, like New Hampshire, and live more than 20 miles from the nearest full-service VA hospital.

The legislation also strengthens accountability at the VA by giving the Secretary more authority to fire or demote senior level employees based on their performance.

Shaheen and Ayotte, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have worked extensively to expand access to health care options for New Hampshire veterans. Earlier this year, Shaheen and Ayotte announced that the VA would be opening two new health care facilities for North Country veterans in Colebrook and Berlin. The part-time health care clinics will help serve more than 2,500 veterans in local and surrounding areas.

 KEY PROVISIONS OF VA REFORM BILL:

·        Access to Non-VA Care:

  • Includes a provision – effective for three years from the date of enactment or until appropriations are exhausted -- requiring the VA to pay for outside medical care for veterans who are unable to get prompt treatment from the agency or who live at least 40 miles from a VA facility.
  • Allows veterans in states without a full-service VA hospital, like New Hampshire, to seek care from a private provider if they live more than 20 miles from the nearest full-service VA hospital. This provision allows the vast majority of New Hampshire veterans to utilize non-VA health care providers should they choose to do so, potentially avoiding long drives and wait times for appointments. 

o   Eligibility criteria: the above provisions apply to veterans currently enrolled in the VA health care system or those who have served on active duty in a combat zone within five years of their enrollment in the VA. 

·        Firing VA Employees – Makes it easier for the VA secretary to fire or demote agency officials based on performance.

·        Accountability Measures – Requires the VA to establish goals for appointment wait times and publish wait times at each VA medical facility.