The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs today held a hearing to examine health and benefits legislation, including a bill by Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to significantly expand access to health care.
Sanders' bill would expand access to the high-quality, cost-effective health care that the Department of Veterans Affairs now provides to approximately 6.5 million veterans each year.
Currently, veterans above certain income levels and without serious service-connected disabilities are unable to receive care. Sanders' Veterans Health Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2013 would reaffirm the nation's commitment to those veterans with the most severe service-connected disabilities and lowest incomes and expand access to veterans currently unable to enroll in three important ways.
The measure would require VA to provide services to certain veterans previously ineligible to receive care when they do not have access to health insurance other than through the Affordable Care Act. It would also extend the period of time combat veterans are eligible to enroll in VA health care from five years to 10 years after discharge from active duty. Finally, Sanders' measure would simplify the enrollment process for lower-income veterans, which would allow additional veterans to enroll the system.
Another bill by Sanders would expand access to dental care. Today, fewer than half of all veterans eligible for VA health care also qualify for dental care. According to the National Institute of Health, oral health should not be interpreted as a separate issue from general health. Poor oral health impacts overall health, including increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and poor birth outcomes.
Sanders' bill would require VA to expand access to dental services at several locations already providing dental care, including VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, Federally-Qualified Health Centers, facilities of the Indian Health Service and through contract care.
Another measure by Sanders considered at today's hearing would address sexual assault and domestic abuse by ensuring VA provides appropriate care and support to those who have experienced military sexual assault. According to the Department of Defense, an estimated 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012.
The Committee took immediate action on one measure, to designate the Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System located in Bay Pines, Fla., as the C.W. "Bill" Young Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. A similar measure had already passed in the House honoring a passionate veterans' advocate and former congressman who recently died.