WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce Thursday introduced H.R. 4031, Beneficiary Travel Act of 2017, to bolster the Veterans Choice Program, which provides services to millions of veterans in rural communities across the nation.
“As a veteran, I strongly support cutting government red tape that prevents our nation’s former service members from receiving the quality and timely care they deserve. Our veterans sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms and liberties, and we must honor our commitments to them. I’ve personally experienced the unique challenges that veterans in rural communities face and how difficult it can be to receive the specific care needed,” Pearce said. “We’ve made a promise to these veterans that cannot be broken. My legislation will continue to innovate veterans’ care by making improvements to the CHOICE program. This bill is a step in the right direction for deconstructing the barriers within the VA that affects rural veterans. I will continue to stand by my promise to the men and women in New Mexico, and across the nation, who bravely stepped up to serve and protect our nation.”
Beneficiary Travel (BT) is a program that provides eligible veterans with reimbursements for travel between VA Health Care facilities or VA approved, non-VA Health Care facilities. In 2016, roughly $1 billion was spent on reimbursements according to the VA. As it stands, VA facilities are able to direct unused BT funds to other medical services without oversight.
In 2014, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act (VACAA) to improve wait times for veterans receiving medical services after the VA Office of Inspector General released a report that cited roughly 120,000 veterans were awaiting their appointments for more than 30 days. As a result, the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) was created, which provided better service and flexibility to veterans trying to receive medical care. Veterans are eligible to enroll if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or if their closest traditional VA facilities’ wait-times exceed 30 days. Since its enactment in 2014, more than 3.22 million veterans have enrolled in VCP and that number is expected to increase with nearly 8 million veterans eligible.
In August 2017, the House passed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act to appropriate an additional $2.1 billion to the VCP, preventing the complete depletion of funds.
H.R. 4031 will require the Secretary of the VA to submit an annual report to Congress on BT payments. Any BT funds not used based on this report will be reallocated into VCP.