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Bill would create commission to determine veterans' health care eligibility

The current system dates back to 1996.

WASHINGTON — When it comes to getting health care, which veterans should get it?

As things stand now, the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system is governed by eight enrollment priority groups created by Congress to prioritize care for veterans with service-connected conditions and veterans whose income is below certain thresholds.

"The current enrollment priority group system which governs which veterans are eligible to enroll to receive care at the VA has remained largely unchanged since it was created in 1996, almost 25 years ago," said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tennessee).

His "Modernizing Veterans' Healthcare Eligibility Act" would create an independent 15-member bipartisan commission to assess veterans' eligibility for care within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"The goal of this bill is to improve eligibility so that it works better for more veterans," said Roe. "I hope that's a goal we can all support."

But, the more than one million-member Disabled American Veterans testified that a commission "is neither necessary nor advisable."

DAV Assistant Legislative Director Marquis Barefield said: "We see no compelling reasons to stand up another commission when this committee and Congress already have the expertise and experience to debate and make necessary changes as we are doing today."

The VA agreed.

 "Respectfully, we do not support HR 7469 as a mechanism to recommend policy in this area," said Tammy Czarnecki, Deputy, Clinical Operations, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee took no action on the bill Wednesday.