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Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good morning. The Committee will come to order. 

Welcome to today’s Full Committee oversight hearing, “Non-VA Care: An Integrated Solution for Veteran Access.”

As we all know, last week the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released the results of an internal access audit, which found that more than fifty-seven thousand veterans have been waiting ninety days or more for their first VA medical appointment and sixty-four thousand veterans who have enrolled in the VA healthcare system over the last decade never received the appointment they requested.

To summarize, that is one-hundred and twenty-one thousand veterans who have not been provided the care they have earned and deserve.

It is unfathomable to me that tens of thousands of veterans have been left without the health care they need for weeks, months, and – in some cases – years.

Delays in care of this length and magnitude are particularly hard to comprehend considering that VA has broad, well-established, and long-standing authority to refer veterans to non-VA providers to receive needed care.  

Providing our veterans with timely, accessible, and high-quality care – regardless of whether or not such care is provided in a VA medical facility or through a private sector provider - should be VA’s ultimate goal. 

After all, isn’t non-VA care not preferable to no VA care at all?

 Particularly to a veteran who may be suffering and in pain and unable to receive an appointment with a VA provider for weeks or months or years?

To me – and, I know, to many of our veterans as well – the answer to that question is a no-brainer to everyone but, apparently, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

By allowing one-hundred and twenty-one thousand veterans to languish on VA waiting lists, VA has made it disturbingly clear that it is unwilling to utilize existing non-VA care authority when, where, and to the extent that it should to ensure access to care for veteran patients.   

Unfortunately, thousands of veterans have paid the price – some with their lives – for that unwillingness.

We cannot and, beginning now, we will not allow VA to continue to prioritize what may be right for the VA health care system – providing care to veterans at VA facilities, first and foremost – over what is be right for our veterans – receiving timely access to needed health care in the most convenient and accessible manner possible.

To be clear, I am in no way advocating for the dismantling of the VA health care system as we know it.

As one of our witnesses, Health Net Federal Services, says in their testimony this morning –

“[t]he purpose of [non-VA care] is to augment VA capacity and capabilities, not to replace them.”

However, excuses and generalities can no longer be considered a sufficient reason not to provide a veteran waiting for a VA appointment or residing far from a VA medical facility with an authorization to receive care from a non-VA provider, should that veteran choose.

Faced with this crisis, the simple fact of life is that giving access to non-VA care is quicker than hiring new VA staff and building new VA facilities.

Where cultural and structural barriers prevent VA from ensuring access to care for veterans through non-VA providers, those barriers must be removed.

VA stovepipes must be broken and bureaucratic insularity must be banished.

To do anything less would be to dishonor the service and sacrifice of our veterans yesterday, today, and tomorrow.