Democratic Senators Introduce Legislation Mandating VA Reimbursement of Veterans' Emergency Health Care Claims as VA Files Court Appeal to Avoid Payout

More than 600,000 veterans may have had their ER claims improperly denied; The VA has had almost a decade of Congressional notice and two lost court cases ruling it is responsible for payment of veterans’ emergency care claims

 [WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation today that would mandate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reimburse veterans’ emergency health care expenses from non-VA facilities that are not covered by the veteran’s private insurance. This legislation follows the 2016 Staab v. McDonald and 2019 Wolfe v. Wilkie decisions, both ruling that the VA must reimburse veterans for emergency medical expenses. The Wolfe decision also found that more than 600,000 veterans may have been affected by the VA’s denial of these claims, with anywhere from $1.8 to $6.5 billion owed to veterans. The VA appealed this decision last month to avoid paying these claims.

“This bill will tremendously help hundreds of thousands of veterans harmed by the VA’s inexcusable emergency care claim denials,” said Blumenthal. “The VA is acting illegally, as found by two separate courts, and immorally. Instead of righting these wrongs, the VA is now reprehensibly appealing the Wolfe decision and continuing to subvert Congressional intent while hurting the veterans it has a duty to protect. Congress must put an end to the VA’s indefensible actions and pass this legislation.”

“Our veterans should never have to worry whether emergency room visits will be covered by the VA,” said Baldwin. “Our veterans have bravely served and sacrificed for the freedoms we all cherish, so we need to do right by them and their families by ensuring they receive reimbursement for the care they have earned and deserve, especially during an emergency.”

“The last thing veterans should have to worry about during a health emergency is whether they will be stuck with the bill for their medical expenses,” said Brown. “Ohio veterans should not be shouldering the burden when they’ve earned benefits that should cover them.”

“It is unacceptable that the Department of Veterans Affairs has repeatedly ignored court rulings and Congressional direction to cover emergency medical care for veterans,” said Hirono. “This legislation would require the VA to do what it should have done from the beginning: cover emergency treatment for veterans, regardless of where they receive care.”

“Veterans should never be punished when VA screws up,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our legislation holds the Department accountable by requiring reimbursements for hundreds of thousands of veterans who were wrongly charged for emergency health care services. Now more than ever, we must work to ensure our nation’s veterans receive the care they need and earned.”

The legislation is endorsed by the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Disabled American Veterans.

"We greatly appreciate Senator Blumenthal and other members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for their dedicated efforts on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been suffering extraordinary financial hardships, some for many years, due to the VA's illegal mishandling of their reimbursement claims,” said National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) Executive Director Bart Stichman. 

The full text of the Senate legislation can be found here.

In August 2019, Blumenthal was part of a bipartisan group of 13 Senators demanding answers from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie about improper emergency health care claim denials. That letter can be found here. In October 2019, Blumenthal led a bicameral letter with nine Members of Congress demanding answers from the VA following the Wolfe v. Wilkie ruling. That letter can be found here.

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