By Byron Shehee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Rep. Bradley Byrne and other members of the House sponsored the Real Choice for Veterans Act. This measure will allow veterans to receive more healthcare from private doctors.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) came under intense scrutiny for absurdly long waitlists facing veterans. Since the VA became exposed, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. It was a conservative Congress’ intent to make it easier to hold the VA accountable. The VA, however, has concluded that the 40 mile rule does not address whether a special medical provider of the veteran is available within 40 miles and started redirecting patients back into the VA’s system.
Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said he is also frustrated with the lack of private medical care but, the Secretary also went on record by saying that he did not want to see services “contracted out” or the agency’s role diminished. McDonald 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 said that he strongly rejects the Secretary’s request to limit any efforts to provide private medical treatment to veterans. Byrne’s two-page bill would make clear that veterans may seek private care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
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 the besieged system instead of allowing veterans to receive care outside the VA.
“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.”
The VA appears to be holding on to what services it can while conservatives are trying to find ways to make sure veterans are receiving quality, private healthcare. Byrne’s bill, would clarify language that the VA’s interpretation and allow more veterans to receive the healthcare they need and deserve.