WASHINGTON – Yesterday the nation’s largest federal union, the American Federation of Government Employees, sent a letter to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs leadership calling for an investigation into the two main contractors running the controversial Choice program which have defrauded taxpayers by nearly $90 million.
AFGE, which represents 250,000 front-line workers – more than 100,000 of whom are veterans themselves – at the Department of Veterans Affairs, sent the letter from National President J. David Cox Sr. this morning to House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chair Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, Ranking Member Rep. Mark Takano of California, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, Ranking Member Rep. Ann Kuster of New Hampshire, and Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chair Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.
In a September memo by the VA Office of Inspector General, titled “Accuracy and Timeliness of Payments Made Under the Choice Program Authorized by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act,” it was found that at least two third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program had led to $90 million in improper charges to the American taxpayer.
National President Cox said in the letter that “The questionable practices used by third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program, TriWest and HealthNet, including double billing and improper payment rates, have directly harmed veterans and undermined the capacity of the VA health care system to provide them with the exemplary care that they have earned with their service.” Adding that the union “respectfully requests that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations conduct oversight hearings into the contractors’ billing practices and the VA’s effectiveness in overseeing these contracts.”
The revelations of overcharging by third-party administrators is just the latest controversy plaguing the negligent Choice program. Last month, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted along party lines to pass H.R. 4242 – VA Care in the Community Act – which would continue to funnel funding away from veterans’ first and best choice for health care, sticking them in the back of the line at unaccountable, private, for-profit providers.
Rep. Takano attempted to submit three amendments to H.R. 4242, to increase hiring and improve accountability of the Choice program, but Committee Republicans voted down each on party-line votes.
“Thank you to Rep. Takano and to the Committee Democrats who all tried to stand up to Republicans and protect veterans’ health care. This year we have continued to hear veterans and their service organizations tell us how important VA care is, and how we cannot let it be dismantled and auctioned off to unqualified for-profit providers,” said Cox.
“H.R. 4242 is a terrible piece of legislation that not only chips away at the only health care system tailored to the unique needs of veterans, but it also insulates private, for-profit providers from being accountable to veterans or taxpayers. We keep hearing from Congress and the Administration that there needs to be a greater level of accountability, but when it came down to making sure these private providers would be accountable to the men and women who served this country, party politics won out,” he added.