Roe touts VA MISSION Act signed by president

Published 4:16 pm Friday, June 8, 2018

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed into law a legislative package designed to improve healthcare for veterans which one local lawmaker said has the potential to be “transformational” for the Veterans Affairs medical system.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) joined Trump for the signing of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks, or VA MISSION Act, into law.

“I’m very proud of this,” Roe said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “It was a bipartisan effort, and it took a lot of work.”

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“If we implement this bill as Congress has written it, it will be transformational for the VA,” Roe continued. “If we do not, it will be just another piece of paper Congress wrote.”

The changes included in the VA MISSION Act are something that started more than four years ago when a scandal at an Arizona VA facility rocked the VA medical care system. A whistleblower reported veterans were being placed on a secret waiting list and not receiving prompt medical care.

“It looked like they were getting timely care when they were not,” Roe said. “People were gaming the system, and it was hurting our veterans.”

Roe said the whistleblower from the Arizona scandal joined officials for the signing of the legislation.

The VA MISSION Act includes three pieces of legislation designed to improve VA services and the care veterans receive.

One of the main parts of the legislative package is the Community Care Bill which simplifies the process for a veteran to seek medical care outside of the VA network.

“It takes away the mileage requirement,” Roe said. “Those decisions about where you get your care are going to be between you and your doctor.”

The legislation also includes mandatory prompt payment for the care veterans receive outside of the VA system. Roe said payment delays led to some outside care providers not accepting VA patients.

“I talked with two providers in Johnson City, one was owed $300,000 in arrears and the other was owed over $150,000,” Roe said. “We’ve got to rebuild that trust with the medical community.”

The legislation creates a system of penalties for VA facilities not promptly paying private care providers for services, according to Roe.

Another improvement to veterans care covered by the legislation is the expansion of the Caregiver Program to include all veterans and not just the Post 9/11 veterans covered under the original program.

The Caregiver Program provides a stipend to a caregiver who leaves their career in order to care for a service-connected disabled veteran so the veteran can remain in their home.

Roe said the program was initially created for veterans who served and became disabled through a service-connected injury after 9/11. It now covers all service-connected disabled veterans, regardless of what era they served.

Another component of the legislation is designed to “right size” VA medical centers across the country.

An independent review will be conducted of VA facilities and services to make sure facilities are best using their space, phase out duplicate services in a facility, and find new uses or leasees for unused buildings and facilities.

Additionally, Roe said, the bill contains a number of provisions that would strengthen VA’s internal capacity to provide timely, quality care to veteran patients within VA medical facilities by improving and expanding VA’s ability to train, recruit and retain the very best providers.