The ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee urged Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough to address a policy that he said is making it difficult for veterans to receive care, according to a June 25 letter.

As ranking member, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., led 19 other senators who asked McDonough to ensure veterans’ right to community care — a program the VA utilizes to connect veterans to health care through local providers. The senators claim that a panel, dubbed the Red Team, meant to assess the reasoning behind community care’s increased spending, made recommendations that are negatively impacting veterans in need of care.

“VA leaders — including yourself — addressed the Red Team and provided it with select data and briefings that contributed to the conclusion that frames community care as a potential existential threat to VA’s direct care system, rather than the vital lifeline it is for veterans and for VA,” the senators wrote.

The letter states that the Red Team suggests the VA reduce community care referrals for veterans needing emergency, oncology or mental health care.

“It is unconscionable that VA would consider leaving them with fewer options to seek needed care,” the senators said in the letter.

Even as the Red Team’s recommendations have not formally been implemented yet, the senators write they noticed a steep uptick in reports from veterans and their families, saying the suggestions are being adhered to already. The VA already canceled, revoked or denied community care for a number of veterans, according to the letter.

VA issued a hiring pause in February and is striving to reduce staffing by 10,000 employees, which the letter argues will affect veterans’ welfare, especially for those in need of care.

The letter cites the VA’s 2018 MISSION Act, with the goal of giving veterans more options for health care access, that included the community care program, launched in 2019.

“VA must embrace both the spirit and letter of that transformational piece of legislation to ensure this does not continue,” the senators said. “Doing anything less is detrimental to the progress VA has made through the MISSION Act and a personal affront to veterans across the country.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated 5 a.m. ET on July 8.

Cristina Stassis is an editorial fellow for Defense News and Military Times, where she covers stories surrounding the defense industry, national security, military/veteran affairs and more. She is currently studying journalism and mass communication and international affairs at the George Washington University.

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