Senator Stabenow Announces Legislation to Improve Veterans Health Care

Thursday, December 14, 2017

After repeated complaints from providers, veterans, and hospitals across the state, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) today introduced new legislation, the Veterans Deserve Better Act, to address serious problems in the federal Veterans Choice program.  The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which was signed into law in 2014, was designed to reduce wait times and provide medical services to veterans in their own communities.  This program is especially critical for veterans in rural areas who were previously required to travel long distances for services.  However, since it was enacted, providers across the state have not been getting paid, rural hospitals have pulled out, and veterans are not getting the health care they need.  


“The Veterans Choice program was designed to make sure veterans can receive services close to home and in a timely way, but it has failed many of those it was intended to serve,” said Senator Stabenow.  “My new legislation will hold the Administration accountable and ensure that these serious issues are addressed quickly so that our veterans get the care they deserve.”


Senator Stabenow’s bill has three parts.  First, it will reduce wait times for veterans by requiring that appointments be made within five days and making sure veterans seeking care have the information they need in advance of scheduling an appointment.   


Second, it will require the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hold private contractors accountable for the care they schedule on behalf of veterans, and ensure reporting and follow-up of delayed appointments.


Third, it will require prompt payment to Veterans Choice Program providers by requiring the VA to pay for or deny payment within 30 days of receiving an electronic claim or 45 days of receiving a paper claim.  It will also require the VA to pay, deny, or request additional information on any outstanding unpaid claims within 45 days of enactment.   


“Munson Healthcare is committed to serving the healthcare needs of the veterans in our region,” said Edwin A. Ness, President and CEO, Munson Healthcare. “Unfortunately, unlike other veteran programs, the Veterans Choice Program has resulted in confusion for veterans and significant non-payment for healthcare providers.  Therefore, we greatly appreciate Senator Stabenow’s introduction of this legislation and its focus on improving access to care for veterans while also holding private contractors accountable for prompt payments to providers."


“In 2016, I was diagnosed with lesions on my brain and needed to see a specialist.  Veterans Choice sent me to the wrong doctor two times, causing me to miss work and have to travel long distances,” said Jerry Sorensen, former National Guardsman who was stationed in Greenville and now lives in Sumner Township in Gratiot County.  “I contacted Senator Stabenow about my issue, and shortly after, Veterans Choice scheduled an appointment with the right specialist. It shouldn’t have taken five months to see the doctor I needed, especially for something this scary and serious.  I know I’m not the only veteran in Michigan who has experienced these problems scheduling an appointment.  I want to thank Senator Stabenow for introducing a bill today to address this problem for all our veterans.”  


Veterans health care has been a longstanding priority for Senator Stabenow. She championed the effort to open new and expanded VA clinics across the state, including in Alpena, Bad Axe, Cadillac, Clare, Cheboygan County, Grayling, Oscoda, and Wyoming.