Byrne Introduces Real Choice for Veterans Act
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) today introduced legislation to increase veteran access to private care in areas lacking a major VA facility.
The legislation, known as the Real Choice for Veterans Act, would clarify language in the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which passed the House in 2014. While the legislation was intended to give veterans greater access to private care, the VA has found loopholes which force veterans to continue traveling hundreds of miles to receive care at VA facilities.
Current law says that any veteran who resides more than 40 miles from any VA facility is eligible to receive care from a private medical provider. Unfortunately, the 40 mile rule does not refer to whether the specialty need of the veteran (for example, Orthopedic Surgery) is available within 40 miles. This language has resulted in a significant number of veterans who need access to important medical treatment being forced back into the VA system even though they could receive the same care from hospitals and doctors in their community.
Congressman Byrne’s short two-page bill would change that by providing that veterans may seek private care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility “that is able to provide to the veteran the care and services that the veteran needs.”
Byrne said: “I have heard from too many veterans in Southwest Alabama who are still struggling to get timely care from the VA. When Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act last fall, I hoped that legislation would open the door to more private care for our veterans. Instead, the VA has found loopholes to keep veterans in their besieged system instead of allowing veterans to receive care outside the VA system.
“That’s why I have introduced the Real Choice for Veterans Act, which requires the VA to give veterans the choice of private care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility that provides the services they need. This commonsense change will take pressure off the VA system and provide veterans with more timely access to care.
“Mobile is a great example of why this is a problem. While we have a VA clinic, the nearest VA hospital is more than 40 miles away. That said, Mobile is home to a number of large, first-class private hospitals which could provide adequate care to our veterans. Instead of forcing the veteran to travel miles out of the way to seek care at a VA hospital, this bill would allow the veteran to get that care from a local hospital or physician.”
In a recent Associated Press story, VA Secretary Bob McDonald even went so far as to request an authorization from Congress to allow for the transfer of funds from the $10 billion Choice Program Fund to pay for other needs within the VA. Congressman Byrne strongly rejects the Secretary’s request.
Byrne said: “Secretary McDonald says the program is being underutilized and the funds could be better spent elsewhere within the VA. If this is in fact the case, there’s no reason we cannot increase the size and scope of this program by allowing Veterans to seek care elsewhere if their specialty need cannot be met by a VA facility within 40 miles of their home.”
Alabama Congressmen Mike Rogers (AL-3), Martha Roby (AL-2), and Robert Aderholt (AL-4) are original co-sponsors of the legislation. The complete text of the legislation can be found here.