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King, Pingree Urge VA to Maintain “Careful Balance” in Health Care Services

Lawmakers request VA provide data on new Veterans Community Care Program in letter; Underscore importance of VA role as primary care provider

Washington, March 19, 2019
Lawmakers request VA provide data on new Veterans Community Care Program in letter; Underscore importance of VA role as primary care provider

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today urged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure it remains the primary provider of veteran health care and to implement the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) as a means to fill gaps in veteran health care coverage. The VCCP, authorized by the VA Mission Act of 2018, offers American veterans local care outside of the VA depending on certain conditions and eligibility requirements. In their letter, Senator King and Representative Pingree urge the VA to carefully consider broadening access of eligibility standards to make sure resources are not diverted from direct VA services to community providers.

“A rural state like Maine requires a careful balance between providing VA facilities and services with the resources it needs to continue to deliver the highest standard of care to our veterans, while also providing easy to use community care options that improve timeliness and accessibility for veterans who may live far from VA facilities,” Senator King and Representative Pingree wrote. “As we mentioned, we are concerned that the proposed broadening of access standards could result in the diversion of resources from direct VA care, to community providers. Maine Veterans have consistently told us how much they appreciate the high quality care they receive at Togus VAMC and other VA facilities in the State. The hallmark of VA healthcare is an exceptionally well-integrated medical system that encourages providers attuned to veterans to think holistically about their care in a way that cannot be replicated in the private sector.”

Senator King and Representative Pingree have worked to improve community care options for Maine veterans through the implementation of the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) Program and the Choice Program. Both programs have helped Maine veterans in rural parts of the state receive care in their local communities instead of traveling long distances to the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta. Their letter to the VA furthers their continued work to ensure comprehensive care for Maine veterans both at Togus and in communities around the state.

In the letter, the Senator and Congresswoman also press the VA to provide data on the access standards and expected demand under the new VCCP program, and the projected numbers of Maine veterans who will be eligible for community care under the new standards.

The letter is available HERE and can be read in full below.

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The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Wilkie,

In response to the Department Veterans Affairs’ (VA) release of proposed access standards for the new Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP), as authorized by the VA Mission Act of 2018, we are writing to express our ardent support for the VA as a unique, primary healthcare provider. We are concerned that the proposed broadening of access eligibility standards could result in resources being diverted from direct VA services to community providers, which could result in less tailored care at a higher cost. Veterans have earned—and expect—the highest quality of care, provided by medical professionals who understand their unique conditions and circumstances, and taxpayers expect the VA to act as responsible stewards of its limited fiscal resources. 

A rural state like Maine requires a careful balance between providing VA facilities and services with the resources it needs to continue to deliver the highest standard of care to our veterans, while also providing easy to use community care options that improve timeliness and accessibility for veterans who may live far from VA facilities. As we mentioned, we are concerned that the proposed broadening of access standards could result in the diversion of resources from direct VA care, to community providers. Maine Veterans have consistently told us how much they appreciate the high quality care they receive at Togus VAMC and other VA facilities in the State. The hallmark of VA healthcare is an exceptionally well-integrated medical system that encourages providers attuned to veterans to think holistically about their care in a way that cannot be replicated in the private sector.

We request the following information:

·       We believe that the VA should remain the primary provider of care, and the VCCP should be used to fill gaps in coverage areas. What data did the VA use to calculate the new access standards? 

o   For the State of Maine, please provide data on the impact of access standard requirements. How many veterans were eligible for community-provider care in FY18, and how many does the VA project will now be eligible under the new standards? 

·       Recalling the demand forecasting issues that necessitated $2.1 billion in Congressionally approved emergency appropriations in 2017 due to higher-than-expected volume use of community providers under the Choice program, how have you calculated expected demand for VCCP utilization, especially given the expanded access standards?

·       How will the VA ensure that community providers who participate in the VCCP have the training necessary to meet the unique needs of veterans?  

We urge the VA to continue its refinement of the new VCCP and its eligibility requirements in a transparent manner with consistent consultation with Veterans Service Organizations and Congress. Furthermore, we hope that the VA’s first priority will remain maintaining robust resources for direct VA care and services, so that Veterans can continue to receive the high standard of care they earned. 

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