August 4 2017

In this issue:
Temporary Funding for VA Choice Program Passes
GI Bill Reform Passes Congress
TRICARE Expanding Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

Temporary Funding for VA Choice Program Passes
The Senate passed legislation (S. 114) that would temporarily fix the funding shortfall of the VA Choice program that will be sent onto President Trump to be signed into law. The $2.1 billion provided will allow it to continue for six months as Congress works on other reforms for the program. It would also authorize 28 major medical facility leases and enhance the recruitment, retention and training of the VA workforce.

In FRA's recent survey (January/February 2017) nearly 81 percent of veterans see quality of VA health care benefits as "Very Important" (the highest rating). The past three years VA and specifically the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have been embroiled in controversy. Since the Phoenix waiting list scandal was uncovered by Congress, a robust debate has ensued on how to reform VHA to ensure it can provide timely, comprehensive and veteran-centric health care to veterans in need.At a recent House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) hearing VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin claimed that VA community care appointments have increased by 61 percent overall since Choice was created.Secretary Shulkin also indicated that last year, 30 percent of all VA appointments were held in the community, rather than in VA medical facilities.

The Association believes that while the "Choice" program has merit, it will require significant oversight to ensure it is effective. Now that the funding short fall has been fixed, Congress should work to provide a transformational change of VA health care by creating an integrated network of VA and community health care providers, with the VA serving as the coordinator and primary care provider.The networks could make decisions about access to community care based on clinical determinations and veterans preferences, rather than subjective time and distance as is the current practice in the choice program.

GI Bill Reform Passes Congress
House and Senate passed major reform of the Post 9/11 GI Bill program (H.R. 3218). Major provisions in the bill include:

• Eliminating the 15 year time limit for using education benefits;

• Abolishing exemption for GI Bill credit for Reserve Component members called to active duty under specified circumstances;

• Providing beneficiaries will not have to pay back tuition that attend schools that close or lose accreditation; and

• Awarding benefits to Purple Heart recipients without 36 month of active duty requirement.

FRA supported the enactment of the Post 9/11 GI bill in 2008 and welcomes the improvements contained in this bill. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a tremendous benefit for service members who qualify for the program and has significantly improved the morale of those currently serving. The bill now goes to President Trump to be signed into law.

TRICARE Expanding Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment
TRICARE has recently announced that it is expanding mental health and substance use disorders. Also adding intensive outpatient coverage and expanding options for opioid treatment. In addition to other improvements, this expansion improves access to care and increases opportunities for mental health and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment. It also makes it easier for beneficiaries to access the right level of care for their health and wellness needs.

TRICARE reduced limitations for receiving mental health and SUD services. There are no limits for the number of times beneficiaries can get SUD treatment, smoking cessation counseling and outpatient treatment per week. In addition, TRICARE removed the requirement for authorization after the eighth outpatient mental health or SUD visit. Since October 2016, non-active duty dependent beneficiaries, retirees, family members and survivors began paying generally lower copayments and cost-shares for mental health and SUD care. One example is the cost per each mental health and SUD outpatient office-based visit, now reduced from $25 to $12. For more information on the updated services and expanding treatment options for mental health and SUD, click here.


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