Politics

McCain Introduces Bill Allowing Veterans to Go Anywhere for Care

Phoenix VA Health Care Center
The Phoenix VA Health Care Center / AP

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has introduced legislation that would expand a program allowing veterans to seek care outside of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs network of medical facilities.

The Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016, which McCain and other Republican senators unveiled Wednesday, would make the pilot Veterans Choice Card program enacted in 2014 both permanent and universal. The bill would do away with the current restriction that veterans have to wait 30 days before seeking care outside of the VA or live 40 miles away from a VA medical facility, USA Today reported.

The legislation would expand on reforms enacted in the wake of the fake waitlist scandal in 2014. It would address continuing wait time complaints by, for example, requiring the VA to extend pharmacy hours. It would also let veterans seek care from walk-in clinics without first having to go through the VA.

"While major progress has been made in reforming the VA, much more needs to be done to tear down bureaucratic hurdles that are denying veterans the flexible, quality care they have earned and deserve," McCain said in a statement on Wednesday.

"This legislation is critical to expanding access to care for working veterans, while ensuring every veteran has flexibility and choice–no matter where they live or how long they are waiting for care. We have a long way to go to reform the VA, but this legislation offers important short- and long-term solutions to ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve now and well into the future."

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.).

McCain has been an outspoken critic about continuing problems at VA facilities since the reports about VA employees keeping secret waitlists first broke in 2014. The controversy had roots in the Phoenix VA health system in McCain’s home state.

The legislation comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealing that the VA still does not provide sufficient oversight to ensure that veterans receive timely care.