The Mission Act includes the VA Choice Program, which allows rural veterans to use non-Veterans Administration healthcare facilities ... if distance or wait lists create problems with accessing care.
The new law also contains payment provisions that require electronic bills be paid within 30 days, and paper bills within 45 days. It was signed into law by the president on June 6.
“This is super important for an entire country's worth of vets, much less the state of Maine,” said Shawn “Doc” Goodwin, president of the Maine Veterans Project. “This is huge.”
He added, “Yes, we had hospitals available rurally for veterans to go to but they weren't getting paid. So when they're not getting paid, they're not providing services so therefor we're not fulfilling our promise to the veterans.
“What this bill means is that we can finally fulfill that promise to veterans everywhere, especially the rural veterans who need it most.”
This is especially important for Mainers who have to drive hundreds of miles to get to the Togus VA Medical Center near Augusta or the Community Based Outpatient Clinic, or C-BOC, in Bangor.
“This is important for us because it gives veterans an option beside C-BOC or Togus,” said Doug Damon, commander of American Legion Post 12 in Bangor. “They can now be dispatched to go local hospitals ... and the hospitals will be reimbursed. This is huge in a rural state like Maine.”
The VA Choice Program started in 2014.
“EMHS was the first healthcare system in the county to sign that contract, but we quickly learned that the Veterans Administration was fundamentally challenged to pay the bill,” said Lisa Harvey-McPherson, president of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems. “We approached our delegation with a receivable of 15 million dollars.”
She said Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who sits on the house veterans' affairs committee, pleaded the case in Washington.
“We're making progress,” Harvey-McPherson said. “Today our net receivable is $8.6 million, but $3.8 million of that is for services provided for over six months ago, sometimes a year.”
The Mission Act absorbed the VA Choice and six other VA programs.