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VA Health Care Bill Amendment Could Help Mesothelioma Patients

A recent VA bill amendment could make it easier for veterans diagnosed with debilitating conditions such as mesothelioma to access health care in the private sector. Introduced in Congress March 7, 2017 and enacted April 19, 2017, the bill amends the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 by modifying the termination date for the Veterans Choice Program. The original expiration date was August 7, 2017, which would have left $950 million in Veterans Choice Fund unspent. With the modification, the program will operate until the funds are depleted.

What the amendment means for veterans is they can continue to receive health care in the private sector when care is not readily available through a Veterans Health Administration facility.

According to Pew Research figures, there are around 22 million living veterans in the U.S. today. Military.com says the number is even higher. It estimates that there are around 25 million veterans in the U.S. from all wars and branches of service. About seven million of these veterans served during the Vietnam War era.

Though the VA is the largest integrated health care system in the U.S., of the 1,233 health care facilities, just 168 are VA Medical Centers. The other 1,000+ facilities are outpatient sites of care of varying complexity (VHA outpatient clinics). Combined, the VA serves more than 8.9 million veterans each year. Sadly, most of the VA facilities available to today’s veterans are ill-equipped to handle the special needs of mesothelioma patients. Even worse is wait times to see the few specialist employed by the VA are often months long. 

Thanks to the new bill amendment, veterans, including those with rare conditions such as mesothelioma, can see or continue seeing the doctor of their choice, without the threat of receiving medical bills they cannot pay or having to travel long distances for care or wait weeks to months for care. Veterans will not have to pay the exorbitant costs for care upfront then wait for reimbursement. Instead, under the amended bill, the VA will now cover deductibles and copays directly for veterans requiring or seeking private care. The following section from the amendment discusses “Recovery of Costs for Certain Care.”

Recovery of Costs for Certain Care

(A) In general

In any case in which an eligible veteran is furnished hospital care or medical services under this section for a non-service-connected disability described in subsection (a)(2) of section 1729 of title 38, United States Code, or for a condition for which recovery is authorized or with respect to which the United States is deemed to be a third party beneficiary under Public Law 87–693, commonly known as the Federal Medical Care Recovery Act (42 U.S.C. 2651 et seq.), the Secretary shall recover or collect from a third party (as defined in subsection (i) of such section 1729) reasonable charges for such care or services to the extent that the veteran (or the provider of the care or services) would be eligible to receive payment for such care or services from such third party, if the care or services had not been furnished by a department or agency of the United States.

(B) Use of amounts

Amounts collected by the Secretary under subparagraph (A) shall be deposited in the Medical Community Care account of the Department. Amounts so deposited shall remain available until expended.

Of the thousands of mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year, veterans account for a staggering 30%. Though asbestos is banned for virtually all uses in the United States today, it was used extensively in the military before the 1970s. This is especially true of the Navy. Unfortunately, the amended bill cannot stop the growing number of mesothelioma cases (veterans who served in Iraq and other countries in that region could have been exposed to asbestos as well), it can ensure that future mesothelioma patients and those who have already been diagnosed with mesothelioma will get the care they need from an experienced specialist. This can have a significant impact on their treatment options and life expectancy. 

 

Sources

"A Bill to Amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to Modify the Termination Date for the Veterans Choice Program, and for Other Purposes. (S. 544)." GovTrack.us. Civic Impulse, LLC., 06 Apr. 2017. Web. 02 Aug. 2017.

Livingston, Gretchen. "Profile of U.S. Veterans Is Changing Dramatically as Their Ranks Decline." Pew Research Center. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2017.

  1. Bodapati. "Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service." Military.com. Military Advantage, A Monster Company, n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.

"Where Do I Get the Care I Need?" Veterans Health Administration. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 02 Aug. 2017.