American Legion takes a stand on pending health care legislation

The American Legion testified before the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) on July 11 regarding its position on pending and draft healthcare bills.

“Over the past year, VA has worked closely with this committee, and veteran service organizations (VSOs) to come up with a plan on where the future of VA healthcare is headed,” American Legion National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Director Louis Celli said. “We call on this committee to work with the Secretary (of the Department of Veterans Affairs) and the VSO community to put a plan in place that is comprehensive, sustainable, affordable, and veteran centric.”

During the SVAC hearing on Capitol Hill, Celli gave the Legion’s position about the following healthcare bills:

- S. 115: The Veterans Transplant Coverage Act. This bill would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary to provide organ transplants to veterans from a live donor regardless of whether the donor is a veteran. This bill will allow veterans who are waiting a lengthy amount of time for VA transplant services to receive those services out in the community at VA expense.

The American Legion supports S. 115.

- S. 426: Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2017. This bill will authorize the Grow Our Own Directive Pilot Program for five years to advance training and education opportunities for participants of the Intermediate Care Technician program who agree to work in VA facilities in underserved states.

The American Legion supports S. 426.

- S. 683: Keeping Our Commitment to Disabled Veterans Act 2017. Required Nursing Home Care was signed into law September 2016 and is due to expire December 2017. This bill will extend the date and not allow the authority to expire.

The American Legion supports S. 683.

- S. 883: Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2017. This bill will expand health care and benefits from the VA for military sexual trauma.

The American Legion supports S. 883.

- S. 946: Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act 0f 2017. This bill will require the VA secretary to hire additional veterans justice outreach specialists to provide treatment court services to justice-involved veterans.

The American Legion supports S. 946.

- S. 1153: Veterans ACCESS Act. This bill will would protect veterans seeking care through VA Community Care programs, like the Choice Program, from being treated by doctors who have been terminated or who have been suspended by the VA.

The American Legion supports S. 1153.

- S. 1261: Veterans Emergency Room Relief Act of 2017. This bill will require the VA secretary to pay the reasonable costs of urgent care provided to certain veterans and to establish cost-sharing amounts for veterans receiving care at a VA emergency room.

The American Legion supports S. 1261.

- S. 1266: Enhancing Veteran Care Act. This bill will authorize the VA secretary to enter into contracts with nonprofit organizations to investigate VA medical centers.

The American Legion supports S. 1266.

- S. 1325: Better Workforce for Veterans Act of 2017. This bill will direct VA to expand its workforce.

The American Legion supports S. 1325.

- Discussion Draft: The Department of Veterans Affairs Quality Employment Act of 2017. To improve the authority of the VA secretary to hire and retrain physicians and other VA employees.

The American Legion supports this Discussion Draft.

In his written testimony, Celli mentioned the need for consolidation and unification of community care contracting practices; recommendations for public/private partnerships; suggestions to increase capacity; and innovations that will support VA sustainability and ensure VA remains a world leader in education, science and health care, which are the three statutory pillars that VA was built on.

Celli said the Legion, along with other VSOs, have been working with the Veterans Health Administration to develop a robust community care program. This plan would consolidate the following proposed bills into one New Veterans Choice Program:

- S. 1279: Veterans Health Administration Reform Act of 2017. This bill will furnish health care from VA through the use of non-department health-care providers.

- Draft Discussion: Veterans Choice Act of 2017. To permit all veterans enrolled in VA's patient enrollment system to receive health care from non-VA health-care providers.

- Draft Discussion: Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act of 2017. To establish VA's Veterans Community Care Program to improve health care provided to veterans by the department.

“We’ve got to find common ground the next few months and get a ‘Choice Bill’ that works for everybody and ensures the longevity and future of the VA health services with the expansion of access to care that’s needed to bring about the secretary’s dream: ‘Better care for veterans and have accessible care for them,’” said SVAC Chairman Johnny Isakson.