East Hawaii News

Congress Seeks Private Health Care Options for Veterans

June 10, 2014, 12:17 PM HST
* Updated June 10, 4:58 PM
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The US House of Representatives today unanimously passed a bill that would allow veterans to receive health care at non-Veterans Affairs facilities under certain circumstances.

The Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014 authorizes private care if the veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility and a medical appointment is not available within wait-time goals.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said while she had “serious doubts” about some of its provisions, the bill is a “necessary start.”

“I will continue to urge my colleagues to look for long-term fixes that will provide for our veterans and build a stronger system overall,” she said.

It was not known when the bill would be taken up by the Senate.

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The bill was introduced following Monday’s release of an audit that showed  veterans are experiencing long waits to receive their first referral to a primary care physician at VA facilities.

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The audit said those seeking their first visit to the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu had to wait an average of 145 days, the longest in the nation.

The audit immediately drew outrage from Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

“The results of the VA audit in Honolulu are infuriating, and deeply disappointing,” US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said Monday. “It makes me sick knowing that our returned warriors are subject to begging for care when they come home.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard talks with a veteran on Kauai during her "Veterans Listening Tour" last week. Courtesy photo.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard talks with a veteran on Kauai during her “Veterans Listening Tour” last week. Courtesy photo.

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According to Gabbard, there are more than 100,000 veterans across the country who have been waiting more than 90 days for their first appointment.

The issue of health care for veterans had already been simmering, as reports of long waits and other problems have surfaced.

The Senate last week introduced the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, which would authorize the expansion of VA facilities in 18 states, including Hawaii, where an outpatient clinic would be established in Ewa on Oahu.

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