U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve veterans' access to health care by making it easier for them to be treated by private doctors and providers in their communities.
"We must fulfill the promises that we, as a nation, made to the men and women who stepped up and volunteered their service," Barber said today. "I am working to make it as easy as possible for them to receive the care they need and have earned without excessive waits or travel."
Barber today introduced the Veterans Health Access Act, cosponsored by Rep. Joe Heck, a Nevada Republican. Barber introduced similar legislation last year.
"Veterans in Nevada face numerous challenges in trying to access the health care services they have earned and deserve," Heck said. "From urban parts of the state where veterans face long wait times, to the rural corners of Nevada where veterans have to travel great distances to access care, the burdens our veterans face when trying to access health care are significant.
"We should be working to eliminate those burdens," Heck added. "This bill would do that by giving primary consideration to the best interests of the veteran in determining where and by whom veterans are treated. By making it easier for veterans to receive care from private doctors and practitioners, we will ensure they can quickly and easily access the care they need."
There are about 85,000 veterans living in Barber's Southern Arizona district and he has been talking with them about veterans' issues that need to be addressed. In those discussions and while working with members of his Veterans Advisory Council, Barber heard praise for the health care provided by the Veterans Administration -- but concerns about access to it.
In most cases, veterans who receive care from the Veterans Affairs administration must be treated at VA medical facilities. But veterans in urban areas often deal with long waits. Veterans who live in rural areas often must travel long distances, many times for procedures that might make travel that much more difficult.
Some veterans require care that is unavailable at VA facilities or they would benefit from specialized care elsewhere. Veterans with mental health issues have another problem: There simply are not enough mental health practitioners at VA facilities to provide timely and ongoing service.
It is difficult for veterans to get VA approval for treatment by private doctors or at private facilities. Permission is granted on a case-by-case basis for so-called "fee-basis care."
Barber's bill requires that the VA give primary consideration to the best interests of the veteran in determining where and by whom veterans are treated. That determination would have to take into account distance, wait time and quality of care, thereby allowing more veterans to qualify for fee-basis care when they need it.
Barber is a member of the Veterans Jobs Caucus and the House Armed Services Committee. About 1 of every 6 adults Barber represents is a veteran. Since he took office one year ago, Barber has been deeply involved in legislation affecting veterans. Some of what he has done:
- He is an original cosponsor of the Veteran Employment Transition Act that was introduced last month. The bill will help provide employers with a tax credit for hiring recently discharged veterans.
- He sponsored the Veterans Transportation Service Act that will make permanent the authority of the VA to transport individuals to and from VA facilities for treatment, rehabilitation, counseling and care.
- He cosponsored the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act to expand access to housing assistance to injured, low-income wartime veterans.
- He cosponsored the Protecting Veterans' Pensions Act, that will target financial companies that take advantage of veterans by selling them estate planning services and other financial products that prevent veterans from accessing their assets.
- He cosponsored the Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act that will permit retired armed service members who are less than 50 percent disabled to concurrently receive their full retirement pay and disability compensation.
- He cosponsored the VA Claims Efficiency Through Information Act that will require the VA to track the amount of time it takes to evaluate each type of medical condition in a VA claim and also mandate that the VA make publically accessible information about pending VA compensation claims.
- He cosponsored the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act that mandates that veterans seeking primary and secondary care from a VA medical facility receive an appointment in no longer than 30 days.
- He cosponsored the Servicemember Mental Health Review Act that will allow veterans who have been discharged from service and denied VA benefits as a result of being diagnosed with a pre-existing personality disorder to have their cases reviewed by a mental health professional. It also will allow the Department of Defense and VA to use new medical information to reevaluate their eligibility for continued service and health coverage.