Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Address Problems with VA Choice Program

Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has introduced a bill with several of his Senate colleagues to address issues raised by Colorado veterans with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice Program.

The Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act will provide the VA with flexibility to improve care by streamlining and consolidating community care programs and eliminating many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent veterans from accessing care.

"Colorado's veterans are rightfully frustrated that the Choice program isn't working properly. It's still entirely too difficult for veterans to schedule an appointment, and it's too difficult for VA employees to work through a third party. On the provider side, the administrative burden is too high for local providers to participate, and when they do, they aren't being paid on time," Bennet said. "Our bill takes aim at red tape to make a number of improvements on the Choice program to ensure our veterans are receiving quality care in a timely manner."

The Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act:

  • Consolidates the VA's multiple non-VA care programs into a single program with straightforward eligibility criteria to offer veterans greater access to care, especially in rural areas, and a single set of clinical and administrative systems to reduce the burdens on community providers;
  • Gives the VA the local spending flexibility it needs in places like Colorado to provide veterans care in the manner that makes the most sense for the veteran;
  • Strengthens and simplifies VA provider agreements, creating a comprehensive framework and foundation for the purchase of non-VA care;
  • Improves medical records management and strengthens existing care coordination capabilities to improve consistence, simplicity, and timeliness of information exchange;
  • Expands access to emergency treatment and urgent community care for veterans.

The bill is also sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Tom Udall (D-NM).

Bennet has been fighting to improve access to health care and behavioral health care for Coloradans. In 2013, Bennet encouraged the VA to consider working with non-VA health care facilities in certain rural areas of Colorado to provide veterans with more local options for care. He also helped change the VA's implementation of the Choice Card program, including the VA's calculation for the 40-mile rule to account for the actual distance traveled, rather than the straight-line distance between the veteran and the VA medical center. Bennet has also pushed to allow veterans to access non-VA care through the Choice Card program if they live within 40 miles from a VA facility but the services they require are not offered at that VA facility.

Most recently, Bennet called for the VA to consider the unique needs of rural veterans when developing its consolidated plan for delivery of non-VA care to veterans, urged it to consider starting a pilot project in the San Luis Valley, and has pushed for funding to hire more medical professionals.