In 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs pulled a popular link from its website which explained how veterans could get medical care in the private sector. This was under a law called the Mission Act.
The latest congressional response to the 2014 scandal in which Veterans Affairs facilities across America were found manipulating data to appear like veterans were getting timely care, the law was passed. In reality, veterans waited for months before being seen by their doctors. Federal investigators claimed that this delay contributed to their deaths.
The Mission Act was created to address this problem. It allows veterans to seek out care outside VA for many reasons. This includes waiting times that are too long at VA. VA will also pay for such coverage. In 2019, VA launched a MissionAct.Va.Gov link in order to inform veterans about their options, provide information on eligibility requirements, and offer links to community providers.
That link took veterans to a page called, “Choose VA” in the fall or summer of 2021. It encouraged them to use VA for their healthcare. VA also removed the link from the main page and front pages of the VA health care website.
Fox News Digital asked VA-specific questions about why or when the link was altered to direct veterans towards VA care. However, VA insisted that they are committed to implementing this law.
“VA is laser-focused on Veterans accessing the best health care possible, whether that comes directly through VA or the community,” stated Terrence Hayes, VA Press Secretary. He added that all the information that veterans need to use Mission Act is still accessible on its Community Care page. As part of that effort, VA continues to execute the Mission Act faithfully.
However, the Mission Act’s implementation team claims that the website redesign was the first attack by the Biden administration. Since then, the VA has taken many steps to prevent veterans from seeking private sector care.
Darin Selnick, a Senior Advisor to Concerned Veterans for America who was formerly a top adviser to Robert Wilkie, VA Secretaries David Shulkin, and Robert Wilkie, stated that “The Mission Act represents your ability to choose anything other than VA.”
Selnick indicated that veterans will find the Mission Act information much harder than they would like. This is in contrast to the Mission Act’s explicit language that VA must educate veterans about their new options. Selnick stated that all they want is that you to choose VA care.
Selnick and others believe that VA’s opposition is now more evident since the Mission Act link has been turned into a “Choose VA” resource. VA announced that in October 2021 it would close the Office of Community Care, and instead create new integrated access and coordination model.
VA’s vague announcement concerned veterans’ groups, lawmakers, and others who believed it would make VA more able to downplay and eliminate the Mission Act.
Some of those suspicions were confirmed by veterans complaining about long wait times in 2021. In the same period, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation sued VA for information under the Freedom of Information Act. found evidence showing that VA was still manipulating patient wait-time data.
Current Mission Act regulations state that a veteran may be eligible for treatment outside VA if the wait times at their VA facility are more than 20 days for primary and/or mental health care, or 28 days to receive specialty care. FOIA documents show that VA doesn’t start the clock when a veteran requests an appointment. Instead, VA schedulers use a date. This means veterans are waiting longer than official VA data.
USA Today’s November report confirmed that VA bureaucrats were preventing community care patients from seeking medical treatment. USA Today reported that while the Mission Act states that veterans are entitled to community care when it is in their best interest and that at least one veteran tried to seek out outside medical care, VA said that this was not “clinically necessary”.
Legislators stepped up to defend the Mission Act as complaints mounted. Senators Marsha Blackburn, R. Tenn., and Tommy Tuberville. R. Ala., introduced legislation in the early 2022 to remove VA from the business of referring veterans to community treatment and give veterans the ability to make that choice.
Blackburn in February stated that “I have heard from countless vets about their frustrations with the VA’s management of the community care programme.” “My legislation will remove the middleman, and make it easier for veterans who want to see a physician.”
However, VA doubled down in the summer of 2022 and began to admit openly that they were seeking to limit veteran choice under Mission Act. In a hearing held at the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee on June 14, VA Secretary Denis McDonough was interviewed about VA’s attempt to alter access standards for private healthcare as part of a threeyear review of this law.
McDonough replied to that the demand for healthcare “has increased more intensly for care at the community level than for care in a direct system,” that community care now represents one-third of all VA care. He acknowledged that this was a large number, and said that he was already worried about the future of VA care in 2021, where community care will account for around one-quarter.
McDonough’s comment seems contrary to the statement of his own spokesperson, who said that VA wants best care for veterans regardless of whether it comes from VA or the community. McDonough then told senators that “my suspicion is that we should modify access standards,” which strongly suggests that VA will make it more difficult for veterans who want to receive community care.
One month later, Miguel LaPuz (Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Health) explained to the House why VA wanted to limit veterans’ access in the private sector. LaPuz testified in writing to the House Veterans Affairs Committee that VA’s training, research, and other missions are under threat by the increasing popularity of receiving care outside the VA system.
LaPuz stated, “Even without resource constraints, if care in the community continues to rise, we anticipate certain VA medical centers, especially those in rural areas, might not be able to sustain sufficient workload to function in their current capacity.”
The next few months will determine whether Congress should step in again to protect a law that enjoyed wide support from both Republicans as well as Democrats. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee is planning to hold a hearing in September where it may finally hear VA plans to modify access standards for vets.
Fox News Digital was informed by one congressional aide that VA’s staff is more concerned with its own financial health than the health of its patients. They also want more control over the money Congress appropriates. According to the aide, “The bottom line is justifying budget increases a year-over year.”
If VA creates additional barriers to the Mission Act’s use, it could give Congress a push to modify the law. This could happen in the event that Republicans are elected to control the Senate and House.
The aide stated that VA believes it’s better for veterans with serious illnesses to remain at their facilities and wait, rather than allow them to go to the best care providers around the world. “In our eyes, a vet should be free to go where they want, no matter what VA says.”