Mr. President – I rise today to express my serious concerns on behalf of our nation’s veterans. In 2014, we learned that several veterans died in Arizona while staff at the Phoenix VA Medical Center entered false information about wait times. Later that year, we found that such scheduling manipulation was widespread, including in my home state of Wyoming. Congress responded by creating the VA Choice program to help veterans get care in their communities.
Unfortunately, Wyoming veterans are continuing to experience delays and limited access to care. I have heard from many Wyoming veterans who have been unable to receive the care they need, and many providers who have been unable to get reimbursed for medical services. Some doctors and facilities have ended their participation in VA Choice because it’s taking too long to get reimbursed, or they are unable to get reimbursed at all. Sometimes when they finally get payments, the check is made out to the wrong provider.
Time and again I hear reports of how difficult it is to get simple answers, let alone care or provider reimbursement, from the VA and the contractor administering the program in Wyoming. The consequences of this poorly run program are ultimately borne by our veterans. In a frontier state like Wyoming, losing access to one specialist can mean losing access to the only specialist in the area.
Sadly, Wyoming veterans continue to tell me about these problems because the situation isn’t getting any better. One such veteran was waiting for a surgery follow-up and cancer screening and cannot go to the same doctor now because VA Choice never paid them. Another veteran was not able to access vision care, and another could not access necessary neurological care because of reimbursement issues. I have even been contacted by veterans worried they will go into collections because of unpaid claims. Without improvements to the program, our veterans will have to continue to wait for needed care and their quality of life will continue to be negatively impacted.
We created VA Choice to better serve the healthcare needs of veterans, not create a new source of uncertainty about whether they will be able to get the care they need. This is unacceptable. This defeats the entire purpose of the program. And until Congress steps in to improve the program, more providers will drop out of the program and more veterans will be harmed. These men and women who have given our country so much deserve quality care in an efficient manner. Their providers need to be paid on time so our veterans can get the treatment they need. When the system fails those who never failed us, trust degrades. We can do better than this. We must do better than this. I know my colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee are working hard to solve these issues. I am working with them to make sure that any new version of community care for our veterans takes into account the unique challenges that rural and frontier healthcare networks face. We owe the highest debt to our veterans. Let us repay that and honor their selfless service by providing them the care they deserve.
I yield back the remainder of my time.