Veterans Report: The Reality of the VA Mission Act, Long Wait Times for VA Choice Patients, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Report: Vets Still Face Long Waits with VA Choice Program
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office confirms that veterans utilizing the VA Choice Program are still facing long wait times. Experts say that the VA Mission Act – a new legislative effort that will replace the Choice program – will not improve on the current program without significant changes in the VA’s ability to collect data and monitor private care appointments. Currently, veterans who face a wait time of more than 30 days are eligible for the Choice program; however, the GAO research revealed that patients utilizing the private care program still face an average of a 51-day wait time, with some wait times as long as 70 days. The report calls for better monitoring of wait times and improved guidelines regarding the requirements for timeliness of appointments. In an official response, the VA conceded to most of the findings and stated that it will look to incorporate the information in the coming year. –KG
Bottom line: As this recently released report points out, appointment timeliness is a critical component to quality healthcare. It’s clear that delays impact morbidity, mortality, and quality of life. More clearly needs to be done to address this challenge as we look to implement the VA Mission Act, which comes with a $52 billion price tag. In particular the $5.2 billion in funding that keeps the Choice program funded until early 2019, at which time the consolidation and reorganization of separate and competing outside care programs is expected to be implemented. The timing of this report is curious, just hours/days before President Trump signed this legislation into law and after it had essentially already passed all other legislative hurdles. Those that fear the Mission Act is a strategic mechanism to chip away at the VA is bound to see this as yet another chess move towards eventual VA privatization. – CB

Trump to sign veterans health bill as White House works against bipartisan plan to fund it
Erica Werner (@ericawerner), The Washington Post
The VA Mission Act became law last Wednesday after it was signed by President Trump, but bi-partisan attempts to fund parts of the bill are being thwarted by his administration. Multiple influential Senate committee chairman – including Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) of the Appropriations Committee and leaders of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – all advocate that creating a separate measure for funding, rather than pulling it from another program, is the best way to create the required allocation. The White House, concerned with conservative backlash from the $1.3 trillion spending bill Trump signed in March, has circulated a memo calling the senators’ proposal an “anathema to responsible spending.” The administration maintains that it will not authorize raising the budgetary caps for domestic spending, arguing that the funds can be secured from within current appropriations. –KG
Bottom line: Elements of the VA Mission Act include key ones ScoutComms clients and partners have long sought like extending caregiver support to Pre-9/11 veterans and developing formal commissions to review VA systems to define when veterans can use outside care, but like everything in Washington the devil is in the details. While expanding access to care, hiring and other efforts to support veterans the Administration has worked behind the scenes to circumvent any efforts to allocate new funds against what is without question going to be an expensive bill in the range of $1.3 trillion. Everyone in DC is trying to avoid using the ‘p’ word these days…”privatization”. The major veterans service organizations jumped into supporting the VA Mission Act because of key provisions like the appointment of representatives from the veterans organizations to the boards that will design the new look of VA Choice care and the promise that funding would not be diverted from existing VA systems to pay for this expanded effort. All of that is moot if the White House gets its way and forces Congress and VA to find “existing funds” to pay for this dramatic expansion of Choice and other benefits. What does “existing funds” mean? Other VA healthcare like closing hospitals or cutting back on care in the system is a big source of funds…so while the law may say one thing the execution of it will lead to exactly the privatization everyone who supported it swore it wouldn’t. Throw in the curveball that just hours after the celebratory signing ceremony, when everyone had gone home, the White House quietly issued a signing statement from President Trump saying that the law’s requirement of who should be on the review commission was a violation of executive authority and the President would appoint whoever he wants. Thus, the very people who have been fighting to drastically reduce the VA to a bunch of specialty clinics and an insurance program for private healthcare could stack a commission now with the legal power to completely alter veterans’ healthcare. All of it done in a conference room somewhere while the White House runs on loop the president surrounded by veterans advocates praising his signing of a law that could very well be the dismantling of the VA instead of its expansion. It’s all about the details and we hope that Congress and the major veterans organizations will fight this battle to the right conclusion for our nation’s 20 million veterans. –FPW

He went AWOL after being sexually assaulted. After 30 years, the Navy finally believed him.
Meagan Flynn (@Meagan_Flynn), The Washington Post
At the age of 17, Heath Phillips joined the U.S. Navy, where he was sexually assaulted and harassed several times. After filing numerous complaints and being called a liar, he attempted to commit suicide, went AWOL multiple times and was eventually expelled with an “other than honorable” discharge. For 20 years, Phillips suffered from this trauma and used alcohol as a way to cope, since he was unable to receive VA care due to his discharge status and could not afford care from a private provider. In 2009, he quit drinking upon making connections with other assault survivors. Now, Phillips is an advocate for military sexual survivors by sharing his story in hopes of letting others know that they are not alone. During his fourth attempt to get the Board for Correction of Naval Records to upgrade his discharge to “honorable,” Phillips finally succeeded. –SM
Bottom line: While I have never had the opportunity to meet Heath in person, I did talk with him when I used to represent the Service Women’s Action Network and he reached out to discuss areas of common interest in his role as an advocate for those who had suffered from MST. This win for him is unequivocally good news, and I applaud the Navy for recognizing—even if belatedly—the merits of his case. As the story notes, he overcame a lot of personal hurdles to become a potent voice for service members who suffered sexual harassment and sexual assault during their time in the military, and his activism is important for others who have not yet found their voice or who have been ignored despite speaking up. There still exist far too many hurdles to justice due to a reticence to report and the unwillingness of those in power to accept at face value such claims, so service members who suffer may not be treated fairly when they do find their voice and speak up. Heath Phillips fought even though he was not sure he would ever win, and he has been rewarded for his persistence by the Navy’s decision. But I suspect that, given his desire to help others, he will not stop speaking up for survivors of MST after his favorable ruling from the Navy. –BW

First panels installed at Missouri’s National Veterans Park in Perryville
Mike Mohundro (@mikemkfvs), KVFS-TV
In a monumental moment for Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial, the first engraved black granite panels were erected on Saturday. The finished memorial will be the only exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, etched with more than 60,000 names. MNVM President Don Fulford said: “It’s a great step for Perry County as a community but also for the United States because this wall will mark accessibility for our Veterans to come to a special place and meet with other fellow Veterans and reflect, pray and look back on their service to our country.” –KG

Vets’ Advocates Push Homeless Agenda in D.C.
William J. Ford (@jabariwill), The Washington Informer
Approximately 700 service providers gathered in Washington D.C. from May 30 – June 1 for the 2018 National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) annual conference, all with the shared mission to end veteran homelessness. Topics addressed including everything from race, employment, serving LGBT veterans and partnering up with federal agencies. –SM

Military veterans touched by suicide say challenges remain to prevention
Travis Bland (@dtravisbalnd), The State
Anthony Doran shares his story on how he recovered and regained control of his life again after struggling with post-traumatic stress after returning from Afghanistan. Now, Doran works as a peer counselor at Vets4Warriors, an organization that provides 24/7 confidential peer support and connections to resources for the veteran and military community. –SM

Jason & Emily McCarthy – Army Veteran & MilSpouse, GORUCK CEO & Chief of Staff
Tim Lawson (@TimLawson), Department of Veterans Affairs Borne the Battle
Jason and Emily McCarthy, CEO and chief of staff, respectively, of ScoutComms’ client GORUCK, recently spoke to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Tim Lawson for his Borne the Battle podcast. The pair discussed a variety of topics, including Emily’s experiences as a military spouse, Jason’s background with the U.S. Army Special Forces, the birth of GORUCK, as well as the company’s first-ever Star Course 50 Miler that was recently held in D.C. and gathered more than 700 ruckers. –KG

Defense officials open investigation into drinking, drug allegations against White House doctor
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Due to recent allegations, a spokesman for the Defense Department confirmed that former White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson is under investigation for unprofessional behavior, such as drinking on the job, improper handling of prescription drugs and fostering a toxic workplace. The 23-year naval officer says the accusations are false and withdrew from consideration of VA secretary on April 26. There has been no response from Defense officials on Jackson’s penalties, if found guilty. –SM

Foreign-born recruits faces deportation despite assurances by Mattis
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars and Stripes
A Chinese citizen and U.S. Army recruit Luo Shu was arrested on Monday and now faces deportation, after his contract expired in January before he could pass the Defense Department background check. Congress recently made revisions to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which extends the military contract of a service member recruited before October 2017 for 365 days – Luo Shu should have been covered by the act. –SM

War Widow: Stop using my husband’s photo for political memes
Geoff Ziezulewicz (@JournoGeoffZ), Military Times
The widow of Army Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, Seana Arrechaga, is still battling the trend of photos of her deceased husband being used for political memes. She, along with other Gold Star families, are united in their opposition of such photos being politicized. While some pages submit to her request to remove the photos, others refuse to. According to her, there’s little hope of seeing a change in these online tactics: “Because of the world we live in, I don’t think this will ever stop. At some point, I’m just going to have to let it go and be okay with it, but I don’t know how I’ll be okay with it. That’s my husband, the father of my child.” –KG

Congressional Hearings

Veterans’ Affairs: Pending Nomination of John Lowry, III
Who: John Lowry, III, to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Where: SR-418 Russell

Armed Services: Department of Defense Aviation Safety Mishap Review and Oversight Process
Who: Brigadier General David J. Francis, Commanding General, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center and Director of Army Safety; Rear Admiral Upper Half Mark Leavitt, Commander, Naval Safety Center; Major General John T. Rauch Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff, Commander, Air Force Safety Center
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Navy and Air Force Depot Policy Issues and Infrastructure Concerns
Who: Lieutenant General Lee Levy, Commander, Air Force Sustainment Center and Material Command, Headquarters U.S. Air Force; Vice Admiral Thomas Moore, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, Headquarters U.S. Navy; Vice Admiral Dean Peters, Commander, Naval Air Systems Command, Headquarters U.S. Navy
When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, June 14, 2018
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Community Opportunities 

Veterans Campaign and University of San Francisco: Master of Arts in Public Leadership
Who: Veterans and military families, but open to anyone interested in public service.
When: Applications open now!
Where: The hybrid curriculum combines online learning with five intensive weekend seminars in the D.C. area.

Armed Services Arts Partnership & Dog Tag Bakery: Pride Open Mic
Who: LGBTQAI veterans, service members, military family members and caregivers
When: 7:00 PM, Thursday, June 14, 2018
Where: Dog Tag Bakery, 3206 Grace St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Tradeshows and Conferences

National Veteran Small Business Coalition: Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium 2018 (Mon – Thur, June 11-14, 2018); Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg, VA

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms.


This entry was posted on Monday, June 11, 2018 12:28 pm

One thought on “Veterans Report: The Reality of the VA Mission Act, Long Wait Times for VA Choice Patients, and More”

  1. My husband has terminal lung cancer. The VA in OKC referred him to Triwest in June 2019 for Community Healthcare since we have to drive two and half hrs to OKC for treatment. Triwest is the Mission Act . I have spoken to Triwest at least 5 times . They keep saying they have the referral from the VA and are working on it. I’m so frustrated, I’ve talked to the VA several times and they tell me to keep calling Triwest. This isn’t right. My husband is a Vietnam veteran .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation