Heller-sponsored bill gives veterans health care choice

With a deadline rapidly approaching, two weeks ago President Trump signed a bill sponsored by Nevada Sen. Dean Heller that appropriates $2.1 billion to extend a program that provides veterans with an opportunity to seek health care outside the backlogged, and too often distant, Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Senate Bill 114, VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, passed both the Senate and the House without a single nay vote.

Trump said at the bill signing ceremony, “This bill will ensure that veterans continue to have the ability to see the doctor of their choice — so important — and don’t have to wait or travel long distances for care. And during the campaign, I kept talking about it.  People — these great, incredible veterans — our finest — they’re waiting in line for seven days, nine days, fourteen days, for ailments that could be fixed quickly, and they end up dying of things that could be taken care of very, very routinely.”

 The president used the occasion to personally praise Heller, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee for shepherding the bill through passage.

Trump also noted that the bill authorizes new community-based outpatient clinics and improves the VA’s ability to hire quality employees through improved recruitment and training.

Sen. Heller noted that the funding for the Choice Program will continue to give the 300,000 veterans living in Nevada access to services that the VA cannot provide – such as chemotherapy and certain life-saving surgeries.

“I applaud the president for signing my bill to ensure Nevada’s veterans can continue using the Veterans Choice program,” said Heller. “Nevada’s warriors have fought and served their country selflessly, and they should not be forced to jump through hoops when it comes to accessing the care and benefits they’ve earned.”

He cited as examples a Navy veteran from Lovelock named Wendell, who used the Choice Program to get a neck surgery so that he could still walk and an Air Force pilot from Battle Mountain named John who had a cancer removed from his neck.

“The program also allows veterans living in rural areas to receive care near their homes,” Heller said. “Without funding for the program, rural veterans, like those in Ely, Elko, Winnemucca, and Tonopah, would have to drive hundreds of miles to get care. The Choice program allowed an Army veteran from Ely to access mental health services nearby as opposed to traveling over 200 miles to Salt Lake City, Utah, or forgoing the care entirely.”

We applaud this modest step toward privatization of our veterans’ health care. —TM

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