Your Guide to Veterans Health Bills

Maya Goldman

Protecting the Debt Limit Agreement on Veterans Health Investments could be just the beginning of Congressional action on veterans’ health this session.

  • Veterans’ health is often isolated from other health policy conversations, so to help you keep track of the policies on the legislative table thus far, we’ve rounded up some key health care bills for veterans to keep an eye on in Congress.

Mental health: Veterans are directly affected by the ongoing mental health crisis and in fact experience higher suicide rates than the general population.

  • The Sen. Jerry Moran and Kyrsten Sinemas Veterans HEALTH Act would expand veterans’ access to community care, including inpatient mental health care and residential rehab substance use treatment.
  • Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jon Tester and Sen. John Boozman also introduced legislation to evaluate the relationship between VA benefit usage and suicide outcomes.
  • Meanwhile, the Senate committee has advanced a bill to improve mental health resources for veterans returning to civilian life.
  • A bipartisan House bill with 33 co-sponsors would establish a mental health task force within the Department of Defense, and separate bipartisan legislation would require the VA to study the quality of mental health care delivered through its system.

Access to care: The Senate committee in February also advanced the VA CAREERS Act, which aims to alleviate the provider shortage in the VA by updating the payment system, expanding reimbursement eligibility and paying for licensing exams for prospective VA doctors.

  • Congress is also considering a bipartisan, bicameral bill to pilot a program in which the VA would pay for veterans to receive assisted home care. The American Health Care Association, a major nursing home trade group, supports the legislation.
  • Tester introduced a bill this year to authorize the VA to research the health effects of medicinal cannabis for veterans. The bill has not been voted on in the Senate, but advocacy groups hope to see it back on the table this session.

Electronic health record: Electronic health records have become a hot topic in veterans health after multiple problems with the VA’s Oracle Cerner system, including errors that caused the deaths of veterans.

  • Tester introduced the EHR Program Reset Act of 2023, which would overhaul the entire EHR system, require certain metrics of any EHR system to be met, and ensure that Oracle Cerner fixed certain issues before moving forward. There is also a bipartisan House version.
  • House Veterans Affairs members on both sides of the aisle had filed competing EHR oversight bills this year before assembling the bipartisan package.
  • House Veterans Affairs Chairman Mike Bost co-sponsored a bill that would have ended VA’s EHR system and introduced another that would have frozen its use until certain safety goals were met.
  • House committee ranking member Mark Takano introduced a bill in response that would require the VA to contract with an independent entity to oversee its information technology programs, including the EHR system.

VA Supervision: The House Veterans Affairs Committee advanced a bill this spring that would require greater transparency from VA medical facilities about wait times and health issues prevalent among patients.

  • In addition, the PACT Act, a bill passed last year that improves benefits and health care for toxin-exposed veterans, is now in its implementation phase. The House has already held an oversight hearing on the implementation of the policy.

What are we looking at: Rep. Warren Davidson introduced a bill in January that would require members of Congress and their staff to obtain health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • When I talk to veterans, they always emphasize the urgency surrounding veteran health issues, especially for mental health services. My bill will ensure that members of Congress have an interest in improving the VA health care system, Davidson said in a news release.

What else were they looking at: The Major Richard Star Act would expand disability and retirement benefits for veterans who have been medically retired due to injuries sustained in the line of service.

  • The bill has 65 co-sponsors in the Senate and 317 in the House, and lead sponsor Rep. Gus Bilirakis recently filed a motion to put the bill on the consensus timetable in the lower house.
  • Legislative advocacy on women veterans’ health could also ramp up later this year, Jose Ramos, vice president of government and community relations for the Wounded Warrior Project, told Axios.

Do you work on Veterans Health? What are we missing? Reply to this email to let us know what else should be on our radar!

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