Lou Celli, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, presents the Legion's views regarding Sen. Richard Burr’s Veterans Choice Improvement Act of 2016 and Sen. John Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. (Photo by Andrea C. Dickerson)

Legion to Congress: VA must develop patient-centered care strategies

During a recent congressional hearing, The American Legion presented written and oral testimony regarding pending legislation on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) oversights, access to health care, and the structure of claims and appeals management.

“Even in the best of circumstances, there are situations where the system cannot keep up with the health-care needs of the growing veteran population requiring VA services, and veterans must seek care in the community,” the Legion stated in its written testimony. “Rather than treating this situation as an afterthought – an add-on to the existing system – the Department of Veterans Affairs must develop a well-defined and consistent non-VA care coordination program, policy and procedure to include a patient-centered care strategy which takes veterans’ unique medical injuries and illnesses as well as their travel and distance into account.”

Lou Celli, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, presented the Legion's views regarding Sen. Richard Burr’s Veterans Choice Improvement Act of 2016 and Sen. John Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act while testifying before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The Legion’s written testimony also focused on recommended improvements to both bills, placing emphasis on eligibility, network structure, prompt payment requirements, and emergency and urgent care reimbursement.

The American Legion commends Sens. Burr and Tester for sponsoring legislation to fix the Choice program and codify the new VCP. Both bills address deficiencies in current laws, as well as provide a comprehensive framework and foundation for consolidating the purchase of care in the community in those circumstances where it is not readily available from VA through contracts or existing sharing agreements.

There is a great degree of overlap and a lot to like in these bills, and the Legion looks forward to a final compromise bill which incorporates the best of both.

“The bills presented today underscore the commitment and dedication that this committee has shown to ensuring that veterans receive the care and attention they’ve earned,” Celli said. “The American Legion is proud to be working closely with Congress, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, to streamline many of the services that haven’t been updated in close to 50 years.”

Celli emphasized the importance of ensuring veterans have access to appropriate, timely, high-quality health care. VA needs to overhaul its outside care reimbursement programs, consolidating them into a more efficient system able to dynamically interact with the network of federal, public and private providers that are to supplement VA direct provided care, Celli testified.

During the past two weeks, the Legion has furthered efforts to make improvements and advancements for veterans as they seek access to high quality health care, identifying the necessary improvements that need to be made in regards to veterans disability claims and appeals.

Celli noted recent work the Legion accomplished after spending three days at the Board of Veterans Appeals proposing suggestions to streamline the appeals process.

“A good portion of the initial time was spent developing trust – not only from the (veterans service organization) and advocate’s stand point, but also from the VA’s,” Celli said. “While we didn’t cure the ills of the world in three days, what we were able to accomplish was everyone’s ability to get it all out on the table and deal with what was there.

“By the end of the three-day session, the group was able to agree on a path to move forward, a basic framework for what an improved program might look like, and a fundamental understanding that there is no better opportunity for positive change to take place for the betterment of veterans in the claims and appeals process than now.”

In closing, Celli pledged the Legion’s commitment to working with Congress and VA to improve the programs that support the nation’s veterans.

“It’s an exciting time right now as we all work together to improve the programs that serve and support our veterans,” he said. “The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has pledged their support for change. The veteran service organizations have committed to working with Congress and VA to improve our programs. VA has committed to Congress and the VSOs to work comprehensively together to design and support change, and the president of the United States has charged us all with making it happen.”