PVA Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake testified at the hearing
On May 24, 2016, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs conducted a hearing to consider several health care and benefits legislative proposals. PVA Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake testified at the hearing. The key bills considered during the hearing included S. 2896, the “Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016,” a bill introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), that would make permanent the VA Choice Program; the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2016” (the companion to H.R. 3471); and, appeals reform legislation.
PVA’s comments were principally focused on S. 2896 and on the draft appeals reform bill. Our historical experience and extensive interaction with veterans around the country leads us to confidently conclude that veterans prefer to receive their care from the VA. This point was affirmed from a recent survey of our members gauging their experience with VA health care. Our testimony emphasized that VA’s specialized services, particularly spinal cord injury care, cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector. We also explained that we believe that reform of veterans’ health care is based on the false assumption that the Choice Program as currently implemented is the best way forward for VA health care (the underlying plan of S. 2896). We explained that the consolidation plan that the VA unveiled late last year sets a better benchmark for the appropriate path forward. Additionally, PVA, along with our partners in The Independent Budget—DAV and VFW—previously presented to the Committee a framework for VA health care reform that builds on the VA’s own plan. It includes a comprehensive set of policy ideas that will make an immediate impact on the delivery of care, while laying out a long-term vision for a sustainable, high-quality, veteran-centered health care system.
Our comments also highlighted the significant work done in the last couple of months to reform VA’s benefits appeals process. In March, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Board of Veterans Appeals, and major VSO’s partnered to form a working group with the goal of reforming the appeals process. Currently, the number of pending appeals has surpassed 440,000. If the process is not reformed, VA projects that the appeals inventory will climb to over two million over the course of the next decade. Ten years from now, if the system remains unchanged, veterans will expect to wait six years for a decision.
PVA is encouraged by VA’s ambitious efforts to achieve reform. VA has recognized that VSO’s have specific concerns and has worked with us to find solutions that move us forward without diluting veterans’ rights in the process. With this in mind, we support the general framework of this legislation. However, we offered a few specific recommendations that we believe could improve the draft bill. Additionally, that before a reform plan can be implemented it is imperative that VA answers the question of how to deal with the current appeals inventory. Congress must also provide adequate resources to carry out this reform plan and support efforts to reduce the current backlog.
The full PVA statement is available at www.pva.org.