Senate Sends VA Modernization and Reform Bill to President’s Desk

Sullivan works to ensure “bill properly recognizes that Alaska’s VA system has and continues to be unique.”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today voted in support of the VA MISSION Act, which now heads to the President’s desk for his signature. The legislation, which received overwhelming support from Veteran Service Organizations and a bipartisan majority of the House and Senate, works to modernize and reform the Department of Veterans’ Affairs care delivery systems, expand resources for our nation’s veterans and ensure services are available when and where our veterans’ need them:

“The VA MISSION Act importantly modernizes the way the VA approaches healthcare. It’s built on the idea – one that we continue to champion in Alaska – that no matter where our veterans live they have the right to prompt, quality care close to home. The focus of this legislation is on safeguarding efficient, timely and quality care; and giving our veterans access to improved services like telemedicine, family caregiver programs, and opioid treatment,” said Senator Sullivan. 

“Throughout this process, I worked to ensure this bill properly recognizes that Alaska’s VA system has and continues to be unique. Building upon the lessons learned from the failed implementation of the VA Choice Act in 2015, we fought hard to protect the progress made in Alaska in recent years – including efforts to pull scheduling back to Alaskans within the VA, allow for the continuation of very successful tribal sharing agreements; and ensuring community providers in Alaska are fairly compensated at rates reflecting the high cost of healthcare in our state. While many of these solutions we done administratively, it was imperative to solidify them into law. 

“As a nation, we owe our veterans and their families a great deal of gratitude and debt. This bill is a small step in the right direction to ensure our VA is responsive to their needs, accountable for their actions and prepared to fulfill this nation’s promises. While there is never a perfect solution, this legislation is built around an overwhelming belief that our veterans should be receiving the best care available to them,” Senator Sullivan concluded. 

Serving Our Rural Veterans Act 

Additionally, language authored by Senator Sullivan – the Serving our Rural Veterans Act – to create a VA Residency Pilot Program was also included in the bill.  During former Undersecretary Shulkin’s visit to Alaska in 2015, he praised the concept of expanding upon community partnerships through residency programs at rural tribal healthcare facilities that serve our veterans. Unfortunately, many rural states like Alaska, do not have medical schools that draw young talent to their healthcare systems, resulting in a chronic shortage of physicians ready to serve the community. This pilot program aims to incentivize young physicians to conduct their residencies in rural states like Alaska with low physician populations, in the hopes that they will remain and become a part of the greater healthcare system that serve our veterans on a daily basis. 

Additional Background: 

Senate Sullivan worked to protect Alaska’s unique healthcare system by advocating for and authoring a number of important provisions within the VA MISSION Act. Those efforts include: 

  • Extending funding for the current Veterans Choice Program for one year as this new program is rolled out. 
  • Continuing access to community care for Alaska and other states (HI, NH) that do not operate a full-service facility in the state a veteran resides. 
  • Removing bureaucratic red tape by authorizing local provider agreements to meet veterans’ needs for care in the community. 
  • Continuation of Tribal Sharing Agreements: If care isn’t readily available from the VA or a network provider, the department can enter into “Veterans Care Agreements” to furnish services through other providers and state veterans homes. A program that provides for the innovative partnerships between Alaska’s IHS providers and the VA. 
  • Creating standards for timely payment to community care providers, which works to address the problems experienced by both providers who were not getting paid for their services and veterans who were getting hounded by tax collectors. 
  • Alaska Fee Schedule: 
    • The VA would reimburse community providers at rates set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). However, different rates could be paid to providers serving veterans in Alaska to account for the high-cost of providing care. 

CLICK HERE for additional information on the VA MISSION Act.