JOHNSON CITY (WJHL) – U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) is particularly proud of two bills he sponsored that he says will dramatically improve healthcare for veterans in 2019.
Now that democrats are taking the helm in the U.S. House of Representatives, Roe will no longer serve as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
The new Speaker of the House is expected to appoint a democrat to fill the position by the end of January.
Roe will continue to serve as the committee’s ranking member to lead what he calls bipartisan progress on improving healthcare for veterans.
“We’ve got a lot of business to do other than last year’s budget,” Roe said in an interview with News Channel 11, referring to the government shutdown over border security that’s bled into the new year.
For example, Roe calls the VA Mission Act “the most transformational bill that’s been passed in decades for the VA.”
The bill, expected to be implemented by June of 2019, makes foundational changes that aim to cut healthcare costs and wait times for veterans by expanding their options, according to Roe.
Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council President Ernie Rumsby said in an interview Tuesday that authorizing more healthcare programs and allowing veterans to see private doctors are important steps to address the current shortage of healthcare providers in the VA’s network.
“If you don’t have the doctors at the VA or that specialty at the VA, you have to go outside the box and you have to go to the private sector,” said Rumsby when asked to respond to criticism that the bill gives too much power to the private sector.
The VA Mission Act also expands eligibility for a caregiver program that will soon cover severely wounded veterans from all eras of service. Caregivers enrolled in the program will receive a stipend so that more veterans can stay at home, rather than being institutionalized, according to Roe. “Generations my age, Vietnam era, WWII and Korea, we didn’t have that. Now we’ve applied that to all veterans so that was a huge step forward,” said Roe.
Roe said he’s also excited about the Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, expected to be implemented by February of 2019.
“The reason that was important was because we had veterans dying waiting to get their disability claim adjudicated. That’s wrong, we can do better than that and so that’s the idea of this bill,” said Roe.
Rumsby said the bill streamlines the appeals process. Currently, he said it’s not uncommon for Tri-Cities veterans to wait two to four years for their appeals.
Roe said most people will have their claims judged in just four months after this bill is implemented. “That’s light speed for the VA,” he said.
Even though a Democrat will soon take charge of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, Rumsby said he’s confident it will not slow their bipartisan progress. “They work hard to do the right thing by veterans because they represent all veterans, doesn’t matter if they’re democrat or republican. And it shouldn’t,” said Rumsby.