VA MISSION BILL; Congressional Record Vol. 164, No. 85
(Senate - May 23, 2018)

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[Pages S2843-S2844]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                            VA MISSION BILL

  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, now on an unrelated matter, today the 
Senate will take action to fulfill an important promise. Our Nation's 
all-volunteer Armed Forces consist of brave men and women who answer 
the call to serve, often at personal risk. In gratitude for their 
selfless sacrifice, we promise them the accessible and quality care 
they have earned when they return home. Veterans of all eras rely on 
this promise as they carry home the physical and mental reminders of 
their service, but all too often the VA has fallen short of meeting 
their needs with facilities that were too far away, lines and waiting 
lists that were too long, and options for treatment that were too 
limited.
  The shortcomings of the Federal bureaucracy were apparent. Veterans 
waiting months to see a physician under their VA benefits--let alone 
dying before receiving treatment--meant that we were clearly falling 
short of our commitment to them.
  Congress had to act. So in 2014 a bipartisan coalition of 91 Senators 
and 420 Members of the House took a critical first step by passing the 
Veterans

[[Page S2844]]

Choice Act. For the past 3 years, the Veterans Choice Program has 
connected millions of American heroes with the care and resources they 
need and so richly deserve. It removed arbitrary barriers that blocked 
veterans from convenient care, and it sent a clear message to those who 
have suffered because of a dysfunctional system: We have your back.
  But much more work remained. The Veterans Choice Program has allowed 
over 23,000 Kentucky veterans to seek care in their own communities 
just last year, but some veterans are still left out. I recently heard 
from one Kentucky Navy veteran who lives 36 miles from the nearest VA 
provider. He served aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, and 
sustained a hand injury that still requires regular care.
  Under current law, because he lives 36 miles and not 41 miles from 
that facility, he can't receive covered treatment from a nearby 
provider who is right in his home community. He has to make a round 
trip several times a year to receive care. I know virtually all my 
colleagues have heard stories just like that one, which made it clear 
that Congress's work was far from finished.
  So Chairman Isakson and his colleagues took the lead to develop this 
new legislation, which borrows from 15 different Senate-introduced 
bills. The victories it contains are numerous. The VA MISSION Act 
removes those arbitrary time and distance requirements that limit 
eligibility for outside care. It replaces those one-size-fits-all 
policies with a conversation between veterans and their own doctors 
about what works best. This will empower more veterans to access the 
care they need, when and where they need it.
  It also allows VA professionals to offer telemedicine and partner 
with community care providers, creating a more comprehensive network to 
keep veterans from falling through the cracks.
  It consolidates seven separate community care programs into one 
streamlined path, and it expands support for military families by 
broadening the VA comprehensive assistance for family caregivers to 
include veterans of all generations.
  These are just some of the reasons why this bipartisan, bicameral 
bill has earned the support of 38 veterans advocacy organizations. In a 
joint letter they call it a ``historic opportunity to improve the lives 
of veterans, their families, and caregivers.''
  President Trump agrees. So does a large bipartisan majority in the 
House. After we vote this afternoon, I hope we can say the Senate does 
as well. Let's pass this worthy legislation and give our veterans more 
of the support they have earned.

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