May 16, 2018

Ranking Member Walz Statement Following House Passage of VA MISSION Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed S. 2372, the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (VA MISSION) Act of 2018:

“If we are to fulfill our nation’s moral obligation to care for those who have borne the battle, then it is our duty as a country to ensure each and every veteran has access to high-quality, affordable, and timely healthcare and services,” said Rep. Walz. There is absolutely no space between Democrats and Republicans in that regard.”

“There is little debate that the VA MISSION Act is better than the current Veterans Choice Program. In fact, ninety percent of the provisions included in this bill were negotiated on a bipartisan basis and through regular order. Unfortunately, the bill lacks a sustainable source of funding necessary to ensure that veterans’ access to quality healthcare as well as other vital VA programs continue to be sufficiently funded, administered, and protected in the long term.

“CBO has estimated that the VA MISSION Act will cost roughly $47 billion over five years. As it stands today, current budget caps will not allow for this level of spending to occur without requiring cuts to existing VA programs. This means programs investing in VA infrastructure, direct patient care, suicide prevention, medical research, job training, and much more could face cuts in funding in order to pay for care in the community under this new plan. Clearly, this paints a stark picture of a VA forced to cannibalize itself in order to pay for private care. It is unfortunate that an important and commonsense amendment I offered in committee earlier this month to fix this issue was not included in today’s legislation. Congress will inevitably have to find a solution before the end of FY2019.

“In addition to my concerns over the bill’s long term sustainability, without the qualified leadership in place to successfully implement this program, I am afraid we will waste precious resources and this program will end up like the current Veterans Choice Program, where veterans still wait to receive care and have difficulty navigating the program’s complex requirements. I am also concerned that without strong leadership in place, this bill will give the Trump Administration the cover it needs to slowly privatize VA, especially if VA is required to cut spending on care provided in VA hospitals, or cut funding for much needed construction and maintenance.

“Voting against this bill is not something I take lightly. While I have serious concerns with regard to long term sustainability and implementation, the bill does take steps to consolidate VA’s various care in the community programs while providing much needed stop gap funding for the ailing Veterans Choice Program. The bill also includes provisions to expand caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans, something I have been passionate about since I first came to Congress. The passage of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 served as an important step forward in ensuring the caregivers of post-9/11 veterans received the resources they needed to provide the best possible care for their loved ones, however these benefits and services were not made available to veterans of all generations. As a 24 year veteran of the Army National Guard, this is an issue near and dear to my heart, and I am glad language to correct this inequity was included in this legislation.”