PEARCE RELEASES STATEMENT ON VETERANS CHOICE PROGRAM

May 8, 2018 Issues: Veterans

Washington, DC (May 8, 2018) Congressman Steve Pearce released the following statement after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a markup on H.R. 5674, the VA MISSION Act, that ends the Veterans Choice Program, or Choice, which provides better service and flexibility to veterans trying to receive access to medical care.

“Our veterans have served and sacrificed in defense of our freedoms and liberties. As a nation, we owe it these brave men and women to keep our promise to them by providing the highest quality of care when they return home from the battlefield. For many veterans in rural and underserved communities, the Veterans Choice Program provides vital access to healthcare by their local provider. This bill passed in Committee today lacks defined access standards and quality metrics, doing a great disservice to our veterans’ understanding of care in their community. Chairman Roe’s bill not only hands over enormous regulatory power to a systemically, failing bureaucracy, but also ends the one program veterans have finally come to learn and use – Choice. As it stands, the VA MISSION Act will weaken veterans’ access to community care. It took a national crisis to originally enact the Veterans Choice Program, and it is wholly unacceptable to eliminate it.

As a veteran, I’ve personally seen the unique challenges that veterans in rural communities face and understand the difficulties involved in receiving specific care that is needed. We should be working in Congress to break down the barriers within the VA that affect rural veterans, not giving them full authority to regulate veterans out of seeing their local providers. I stand by the promise I made to veterans, and will continue working with Chairman Roe and Members of the Veterans Affairs Committee towards a final bill that ensures those in rural communities will have access to the service and care they need,” stated Rep. Pearce.

Background

The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (Veteran Choice Program or Choice) of 2014, was enacted on August 7, 2014 only after it was uncovered that many veterans died while waiting for access to care. The Veterans Choice Program was implemented in response to the uncovering of a secret waitlists and veterans unable to access medical care at VA facilities. Choice was ultimately enacted to improve the access of eligible veterans to health care through non-Department institutions and providers.

The two main eligibility criteria for Choice are (1) living outside of a 40-mile driving distance from a VA Medical Facility or (2) having to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment. The authority to develop eligibility criteria for veterans to use non-VA entities and providers shifts to the VA’s control under the VA MISSION Act. This bill ultimately “sunsets,” or eliminates, the Veteran Choice Program 1 year from the date of its enactment. 

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