Lawmakers seek change following inewsource investigation

Darin Selnick’s copy of the Mission Act is shown along with other notes from his work on the legislation, August 10, 2021. (Zoë Meyers / new source)

Members of Congress described news sourceVA’s investigation of the VA health care system is “disturbing,” “alarming” and “unacceptable,” pointing out that the issues raised by the reports merit further consideration by Congress.

“I am increasingly alarmed by the concerns I hear from veterans and stories like this,” said Representative Mike Bost, R-IL, senior member of the Committee of the United Nations. Veterans Chamber. “They all point out one thing: VA is breaking the law and holding veterans hostage in a health care system that does not serve them.”

new sources A survey, published in partnership with USA TODAY, recounted the stories of Southern California veterans who were unable to access much-needed treatment outside of the VA, a federally funded health care system for veterans.

inewsource is an independent, not-for-profit journalism organization in San Diego, and relies on grants and philanthropists to support its investigative content. Click here to find out more.

Veteran stage IV cancer patient Christine Russell was suddenly told in February that the VA would no longer pay for her outsourced oncology appointments. Since her cancer diagnosis, she has accumulated over $ 30,000 in medical debt.

“No veteran should have to suffer like Christine Russell and so many others have,” added Bost. “I will use any leverage at my disposal as the senior Republican on the Veterans Committee to make things right.”

Bost’s office said it plans to continue increased oversight of the VA health system and plans to work on legislation that would help address the concerns of veterans.

Navy veteran Christine Russell is pictured at St. Michael’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Carlsbad on August 18, 2021. (Zoë Meyers / new source)

The office of Representative Jack Bergman, his colleague on the committee, said he “appreciates the work done on this alarming story and is committed to further addressing these issues facing veterans and community care, and we are discussing ways to ‘use this article as a platform for this purpose.

Dozens of veterans and healthcare providers across the United States have contacted news source since the survey published online Monday, sharing their own difficulties in charging the VA for treatment outside the medical system. An abridged version of the story published nationally in the print editions of USA TODAY Friday Morning.

Under a 2018 federal law called the Mission Act, the VA is supposed to fund treatment by other providers if veterans meet any of the six criteria, including long wait times or commuting. car for VA appointments.

But internal VA manuals show that department administrators overturn doctors’ judgments and prevent them from sending patients out of the VA health care system.

Explore the survey

Read the inwsource survey of the VA health care system here. To explore the audio, video, and other parts of the survey, visit our project landing page.

“The VA MISSION Act was designed with the primary purpose of providing veterans with timely access to quality health care,” Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-MT, said after new sources published article.

“Any effort to intentionally prevent eligible veterans from obtaining this care – whether in VA facilities or in the community – is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately. “

A new report from the VA Inspector General highlights the personal impact of health system decisions. The report, released this week, found that a Louisville veteran ran into $ 210,000 in debt when the VA failed to pay for his mental health treatments, all because of an “administrative error.”

Veterans face urgent medical and mental health needs. The VA has canceled or delayed about 20 million appointments since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August prompted an increase in calls to helplines for Veterans.

After an interview with news source For the initial investigation, Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, sent a letter to VA National Secretary Denis McDonough urging him to address veteran health issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The letter was co-signed by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, and Rep. J. Luis Correa, D-Santa Ana.

Lawmakers have described delays in care, problems with paperwork and complicated review processes that prevent veterans in their districts from accessing much-needed medical treatment.

Abridged statements from other lawmakers and advocates:

Read the full statements here.

Senator Gerald Moran, R-KS:

“No veteran should be denied community care because of an arbitrary administrative decision. The VA must follow the letter of the law and remove administrators from the decision-making process as provided for in the MISSION Act. “

Russ Duerstine, Deputy Director of Concerned Veterans for America:

“This story is probably shocking to most Americans who thought the VA appointment backlog was solved years ago. Veterans who are currently suffering from the impact of long waiting lists appreciate the attention this story has paid to the barriers they face in trying to obtain timely, quality health care.

Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH:

“Ohio veterans should be able to receive care where it is in their best interests… And that is the most important thing here – that veterans have access to timely, quality care, no matter what. either at VA or in the community depending on their needs and eligibility. “

Senator John Boozman, R-AR:

“The Senate Veterans Committee has organized briefings, monitoring hearings and site visits to ensure the VA is implementing community care to meet the needs for which it was designed. This oversight is essential and should continue to confirm that the VA is following Congress’ intent and that veterans are receiving the medical care and services they deserve. “

“It remains crucial for Congress and the Department to identify solutions to these challenges,” the letter said. “It is the least we can do for those who have already given so much.”

Lawmakers have not received a response.

San Diego County is home to about a quarter of a million veterans, the fifth highest of any county in the country. Its local VA health care system, which also covers neighboring Imperial County, serves around 85,000 patients.

San Diego and Orange County congressman Mike Levin, a member of the House of Veterans Affairs committee, urged veterans to contact his office if they have any issues with the VA.

How to appeal your case

Read the full VA clinical appeal process here. You can follow inwsource’s guide to navigating VA health care decisions here.

“One of my top priorities is to ensure that veterans have access to the high quality health care they have earned and deserve,” said Levin, a Democrat. “Any report of veterans facing unwarranted barriers to the care they need is troubling, and I encourage local veterans to contact my office so that we can help them with any issues they may have in obtaining care via the VA. “

Former servicemen and their caregivers said news source they do not know where to turn when faced with refusals for health care.

Veterans are expected to submit medical appeals to a VA hospital’s patient advocate office, which should be reviewed in three days by administrators, and then a second appeal that goes to regional VA executives. But those who reached out to their local advocates said staff had not returned their calls or helped resolve their issues.

Ron Stark, president of the San Diego Veterans Coalition, said he plans to work closely with San Diego VA director Dr. Rob Smith to address concerns about patient advocates at the hospital.

“If we can get people to stand up for ourselves and our cause, or synthesize the information and take some of the emotion out of it, we can very systematically bring something up and look for solutions,” Stark said.

The local coalition contains more than 150 member organizations and four action groups that work together to help veterans in the San Diego area. Stark volunteers for the coalition more than 20 hours a week.

“This is all because I see human suffering and I will help take over,” he said.

National veterans services groups said they plan to use new sources survey to help resolve health issues at the VA.

The San Diego VA, featured on November 15, 2018, provides healthcare to 86,000 veterans in San Diego and Empire counties. (Megan Wood / new source)

“I think the final story thoroughly portrays the human impact that these kinds of political decisions can have,” said Ryan Gallucci, national director of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Gallucci said his organization will ensure the VA lives up to the intent of the Mission Act so that VA medical decisions are based on patient needs, not administrative concerns.

“If current regulations and policy manuals create these kinds of inconsistencies, then they need to be corrected,” he said.

In mid-October, the VA announced that it would phase out offices that handle external health care requests and create a new program to manage those responsibilities.

Gallucci said VFW “will work with VA to ensure the program is implemented in accordance with the clinical needs of veterans.”

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