In 1636, 140 years before John Hancock would emblazon his signature on the Declaration of Independence, the Pilgrims established the first system of veterans benefits in America – promising in law to support disabled soldiers. Since then, our nation has passed numerous laws and chartered multiple veterans service organizations to continue taking care of those who served and fought for our freedom.
Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the primary federal agency tasked with keeping the promises we have made to our veterans after they complete their service. Like any government agency, it was created to do good and suffers from inefficiency. While the VA does help many veterans, sometimes they miss the mark – badly. A new rule is scheduled to go into effect early next year that will threaten a veteran’s access to emergency medical care.
The VA rule, inconspicuously called “Change in Rates VA Pays for Special Modes of Transportation,” would lower the reimbursements both ground and air ambulance providers receive when transporting a veteran in an emergency to a level substantially below the actual cost of service. This change would no doubt put access to ambulance services in jeopardy, placing veterans – especially rural veterans who have fewer options for medical transportation – in a situation where they have nowhere to turn during a medical emergency.
Thankfully, the VA rule has drawn significant opposition in Congress and recently resulted in the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate known as the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act. (S. 2757 and H.R. 5530). This bipartisan legislation would prevent the VA from reducing ambulance reimbursement rates unless the VA can ensure that the rate changes will not reduce the access veterans have to emergency medical transportation.
In a recent announcement in support of this bipartisan fix, the American Legion’s Executive Director of Government Affairs explained just how urgent passing this legislation is, stating, “This timely proposal rightfully institutes accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and continuity for our nation’s veterans to receive the emergency care they need, when they need it most – without arbitrary reimbursement rate changes that leave veterans footing outrageous emergency transportation service bills and diminished access to emergency services.”
While I know election season is quickly approaching, I’m hopeful Wisconsin’s members of Congress – from both parties – can use this as an opportunity to demonstrate there are issues that are more important than party or politics. That they can keep one of the longest, most cherished, promises the American people have made – to take care of our veterans.
Captain Jason Church (U.S. Army Ret.) lost both his legs to an IED in Afghanistan in 2012. He is now a lawyer and veteran’s advocate. He and his wife live in Waukesha County.