Collins, King Introduce Bill To Improve Access To Health Care Services For Rural Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King have introduced legislation – the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 – that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to use its existing authority to offer community care to veterans who live more than 40 miles driving distance from the nearest VA medical facility that provides the type of care they need. 

“Maine veterans often face barriers to accessing care, including long drives and dangerous winter weather.  The VA should have implemented the Choice Program as Congress intended, which was to allow veterans to seek care within their local communities if the VA cannot provide the services they need within 40 miles,” said Senator Collins.  “This bill would relieve many veterans across the state who struggle with the time and effort it takes to drive to Togus for specialty care.”  

“Our veterans deserve accessible, high-quality medical care – even if that means it has to come from outside the VA system,” Senator King said. “In Maine, we have seen remarkable success in allowing veterans to obtain services through local clinics, which is why the VA reform bill we passed last year placed an added emphasis on providing them with greater flexibility to get the care they need. However, the VA isn’t implementing the law with the most important pieces – access and services – in mind. This bill would require them to do so, ensuring that veterans can obtain the medical services they need.”

In July 2014, the House and Senate passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 – comprehensive legislation to address VA wait-time manipulation and failure to provide timely, quality health care to veterans. The legislation also permitted veterans across the country to access non-VA community care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or if their wait time for an appointment is more than 30 days by establishing the Choice Program, a pilot program.

In implementing the law, the VA determined that the 40 miles criteria would not take into account driving distances or whether the VA facility within 40 miles of a veteran can provide the specific type of medical services a veteran requires. This legislation would correct this oversight by requiring the VA to utilize its existing referral authorities to furnish health care services to those who reside more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA facility that offers the specific medical service sought.

Senators Collins and King join Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in introducing the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015. The bill is supported and endorsed by the Eastern Maine Medical Center, the National Rural Health Association, the National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, the National Association of Rural Mental Health, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and the National Guard Association of the United States.