- Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Jerry Moran, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, have introduced the Veterans Community Care and Access Act (S. 2148) that will help improve veteran patient access to care.
The bill, introduced to the Senate on December 4, seeks to streamline community care and VA services. Per a legislative summary published by Senator Moran’s office, the bill will create a community care program, a strategy to improve integrated care at VA, and patient access and quality standards.
The bill also clarifies how VA and other entities would pay for veteran healthcare.
These proposed reforms will build upon the progress made by the Veterans Choice Program. Implemented in 2014, Choice allows veterans facing extraordinary barriers to care to receive treatment at third party, non-VA facilities.
“Our bill would strengthen and improve the core elements of Choice by consolidating and streamlining the VA’s community care program,” McCain said in a statement.
“Moreover, the bill would deliver long overdue, critical reforms to the VA, including commonsense reporting standards that ensure cost-efficient care to our nation’s veterans,” he continued. “It’s time we transform the VA into a 21st century health care system, one that respects the dignity of our men and women in uniform and provides all veterans the quality health care they deserve.”
The proposed bill will help integrate community care with VA services by reducing bureaucratic barriers, ideally making veterans the core decision-makers in their own healthcare, McCain and Moran said.
“Demand has demonstrated that veterans want and need healthcare options in their communities, but there must be reform at the VA to create a system that works for them,” Moran stated. “This joint effort to reform the VA will offer veterans an integrated healthcare system within their community that reduces red tape, enhances their quality of life and provides care that is worthy of their service and sacrifice.”
The bill also establishes a set of payment standards that will help better incorporate community providers and VA services, expand veteran access to telehealth, and create better employment opportunities for graduate medical students and medical residents.
The VA has also begun work to improve veteran patient and family engagement. In the VA facility in Los Angeles, organization leaders have formed the Veterans and Community Oversight and Engagement Board Federal Advisory Committee.
This body will serve as a patient advisory council (PAC), helping to identify patient and family goals and priorities across VA. PACs in all types of care settings are useful for integrating the patient voice into healthcare decision-making.
The Veterans and Community Oversight and Engagement Board will also work to integrate community priorities with veteran priorities. The Board will identify social determinants of health that affect veterans in the Los Angeles community and work with VA providers to address those issues.
“The creation of this committee supports VA’s goal of educating and empowering Veterans and their families through outreach and advocacy,” said VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD. “We will focus on initiatives such as assisting homeless Veterans in the Greater Los Angeles area, supporting underserved populations of women Veterans, aging Veterans, physically or mentally disabled Veterans and those with addiction issues.”
Both efforts are a part of VA’s overall goal of improving the services it offers to veteran patients. VA has been under scrutiny since the wait time scandal at the Phoenix VA during which VA employees falsified veteran wait times to meet certain metrics. The issue resulted in the resignation of then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and allegedly caused 40 veteran deaths.
Since that incident, VA has worked to both improve its patient services and revamp its public image. The VA launched the Veterans Choice Program, implemented a culture of patient centricity, and installed several different programs making it easier for veterans to make treatment choices and access VA healthcare.