A landmark bill-signing occurred in the Rose Garden of The White House Wednesday impacting all military veterans, of which there are nearly 85,000 in El Paso County. Access to health care will be greatly expanded thanks to a bipartisan bill signed by President Trump.
The VA Mission Act of 2018 will spend more than $50 billion to help expand veterans’ options when it comes to getting the medical care they need. Many local veterans say it’s about time.
"We’re allowing our veterans to get access to the best medical care available, whether it’s at the VA or at a private provider," Trump said at Wednesday’s signing ceremony. The new VA Mission Bill will allow veterans to receive care from private doctors and hospitals when they do not receive the treatment they expected from the VA.
"This was a really big push by 38 Veterans Service Organizations to get this bill passed," said Dean Noechel, Junior Vice Commander of the Department of Colorado American Legion. At the Legion post in Fountain, veterans say having more options will expedite and streamline access to providers. "Anything we can do for our vets that are coming out, it should be the most important thing for our country to look at," said Air Force veteran Patrick Bedford.
"Why aren’t (veterans) going outside (the VA) to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill," Trump asked at the bill-signing ceremony. "It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care."
The bill replaces the Veterans Choice Program, which, although popular and effective for many vets, was plagued with funding problems, leaving vets to foot the bill for their care from private providers. "I know many other veterans around the area that are fighting right now to get their bills paid from the private sector by the VA, and it’s affecting their credit," Noechel said. "Creditors are calling them, they want their money. It’s a sad situation."
"It’s better than having somebody come along and say, ‘Yeah, you did a good job, but we’re not going to take care of you,’" Bedford said of the VA Mission Act.
The legislation also expands a "Caregivers Program" to cover families of veterans of all eras, not just those injured in the line of duty since 2001. It also gets rid of restrictions limiting private and community care to veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.
"I really believe that this is a step in the right direction," Noechel said.