August 02, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King applauded the passage of the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 they cosponsored that provides $2.1 billion in emergency funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fund the Veterans Choice Program for an additional six months. The program helps veterans across Maine and the nation receive health care within their communities and allows veterans in Northern Maine to continue to utilize community care as they did under the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) pilot.
The legislation also authorizes 28 leases for VA facilities across the country, including a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Portland. The Portland CBOC will consolidate the existing Saco and Portland CBOCs and enhance VA outpatient services. The lease will increase veterans’ access to a core set of services and additional specialty care in a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient health care facility in the Portland area. The planned full deployment of tele-medicine technologies in the new clinic will also further improve veterans’ access to care in rural locations throughout Maine.
“Veterans deserve convenient access to the high-quality health care that they have earned through their service. As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the VA, I authored a provision in the Committee’s report on the VA funding bill urging the Department to address the extensive delays in authorizing VA medical facility leases such as the CBOC in Portland. I have also worked to ensure that Northern Maine veterans who received local health services through the ARCH program maintain that continuity of care in their communities under the Choice program. Last month, I secured additional language in the Committee’s report directing the VA to maintain the same access to care veterans enjoyed under the ARCH pilot through the use of provider agreements,” said Senator Collins. “I am pleased that Congress unanimously passed this legislation to authorize these leases for vital medical facilities and extend the Choice program, and I look forward to it being signed into law.”
“In rural states like Maine, the Choice Program is critical to supporting veterans who would otherwise have to travel long distances and sometimes wait hours to receive the health care they need,” said Senator King. “The program’s extension, along with the inclusion of leases for new VA facilities around the country – including one in Portland – helps American veterans access the high-quality care they have earned.”
Senators Collins and King have worked closely with a bipartisan, bicameral group of their colleagues to extend the Choice program and include the VA leases in this emergency authorization bill. In July, Senators Collins and King, along with Senator Warner, wrote to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee requesting it include the leases for 27 VA medical facilities, including the CBOC in Portland, in upcoming legislation to extend the Choice program for FY17 and FY18. In May, the entire Maine delegation wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin and Director of Office and Budget Management Mick Mulvaney to urge the administration to help authorize the leases. In January, the Maine Senators also reintroduced the bipartisan Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act, legislation that would authorize pending leases for 24 VA medical facilities.
In addition, as a member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Collins included language last month in the Appropriations Committee’s report on the FY18 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill to improve the delivery of health care to veterans. Her provisions direct the VA Secretary to ensure that veterans who participated in the ARCH pilot program maintain continuity of care through the use of provider agreements or other mechanisms and urges the VA to continue working with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget to identify a long-term solution to budgetary challenges that have caused extensive delays in authorizing VA medical facility leases.