Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly announced today his support for the Veterans First Act, as part of his ongoing efforts to address issues with the Veterans Choice Program and reduce the long wait times that Hoosier veterans continue to face while trying to access health care services. This bipartisan legislation, supported by more than 30 Senators, recently passed the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. It would improve care at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and clinics, and make reforms to the Veterans Choice Program, including streamlining the process for private community medical providers to provide care to veterans.
Donnelly said, “Veterans deserve access to timely and quality health care. The Veterans First Act is important to improve the Choice Program and address the long wait times and senseless hurdles that our veterans continue to face. I will continue listening to Hoosier veterans and working with my colleagues to get this right so we can fulfill the promises made to those who served our country.”
In addition to making reforms to the Veterans Choice Program, the Veterans First Act includes provisions that would help VA hire more mental health providers and update VA’s opioid prescribing practices, increasing the availability of medication like naloxone to counter the effects of opioid overdoses. The legislation is supported by organizations and groups including the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars USA (VFW), Disabled American Veterans, and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
Donnelly has worked to address challenges facing Indiana veterans seeking quality, accessible health care. In 2014, Donnelly supported and voted for the bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which established the Veterans Choice Program. Responding to concerns raised by Hoosier veterans, in late 2014 and again in early 2015, Donnelly and U.S. Representative Pete Visclosky (IN-01) sent the VA two letters successfully requesting the VA consider travel times and the distance from appropriate care, rather than simply the straight-line distance from a veteran’s home to the nearest VA facility.
In early 2016, Donnelly spoke on the Senate floor and met with the President of Health Net Federal Services —one of the third-party vendors contracted to help the VA administer and implement the Choice Program around the country, including in Indiana— concerning the challenges facing Hoosier veterans using the Veterans Choice Program. Most Indiana veterans must call Health Net Federal Services to schedule medical appointments. Donnelly’s office has heard from Hoosier veterans experiencing long wait times and other issues with scheduling appointments and accessing their benefits through the Choice Program. Donnelly has worked not only to help these veterans, but he also has called for answers from Health Net and pushed for Health Net to ensure issues are resolved so that Hoosier veterans can get the timely and quality care they deserve.