U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) held a press conference May 22 to discuss the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act, also called the VA MISSION Act. The senators were joined by veteran service organization (VSO) leaders before members of the media in the SVAC room of the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C.
“What we’ve done on this committee, with Democrats and Republicans alike, we’re taking the best ideas of both sides,” said Isakson in his opening remarks about the bipartisan legislation. Isakson thanked the VSOs saying, “We stand on your shoulders in this committee. You are not ornaments or fixtures in this committee, you are the heart of this committee.”
Tester urged the Senate to pass the “bold, bipartisan compromise” by Memorial Day to send veterans a message that “thank you” is not enough for those who put their lives on the line for this nation.
Louis Celli, American Legion executive director of Government and Veterans Affairs in the Legion's Washington, D.C., office, spoke at the press conference to voice the Legion’s support of the VA MISSION Act.
“This is quite an accomplishment and we’re very proud of it,” he said. “And that’s why 38 VSOs signed letters to support this legislation.”
The VA operates seven different programs to administer community care and each has different eligibility standards, methods of access, cover different areas of care, and have different payment methods for practitioners. This leaves veterans, providers and even the VA frustrated by the inadequacies under the current system.
“Congress built all of these different programs to serve veterans in different capacities and now it’s time for Congress to fix that and put it all under one umbrella,” Celli said. “The Senate needs to pass this legislation this week and The American Legion calls on the Senate to do just that.”
The proposed legislation includes provisions to consolidate community care programs into a single, streamlined service; provides sufficient funding to fund the program through the next year; expands comprehensive assistance; strengthens ability to recruit, hire and retain quality medical personnel; and reforms the VA’s health-care infrastructure. The MISSION Act passed favorably last week through the House of Representatives and the Senate is expected to vote on the legislation this week.
"The VA is the gate keeper,” Celli said. “So the VA needs to make sure all decisions that are made are made in the best interests of the veteran.”