This week, President Donald Trump signed the “John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Networks Act” (VA MISSION Act) into law and a freshman congressman from North Florida’s fingerprints are all over it.
The final bill includes two of U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn’s, R-Fla., proposals and the freshman congressman was thrilled that Trump signed it.
“With President Trump, we took a big step in improving care and choice for our veterans. The VA MISSION Act gives certainty to our veterans, increasing benefits to our nation’s heroes and expanding options to seek care outside of the VA,” said Dunn, who sits on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Thursday. “Our veterans fought for our freedoms, they shouldn’t have to fight the system to receive the care they need and deserve. I thank President Trump and House VA Committee Chairman Phil Roe for their dedication to our veterans. I will continue to fight to improve care and fix the VA through my work on the committee.”
Dunn scored wins as the bill includes large parts of his “Veterans Increased Choice for Transplanted Organs and Recovery (VICTOR) Act” and his “Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act."
Dunn’s VICTOR Act gives veterans who need organ transplants more choices in their medical care. The House passed a version of the legislation in November. Dunn’s proposal would give veterans needing organ transplants more access, allowing those who live 100 miles or more from VA transplant centers have their procedures done at other medical facilities though it would need to be federally certified and cover Medicare patients.
Noting the current policy, Dunn pointed to his own district, which includes parts of the Big Bend, as an area where veterans would benefit from his legislation. For veterans in Dunn’s district, the nearest VA facility that performs organ transplants is in Nashville.
“The VICTOR Act is a critical step forward in ensuring transplant care through the VA meets our veterans’ medical needs,” Dunn, who served as an Army surgeon, said after the vote in November. “Medical decisions should be made between a doctor and their patient, and that is exactly what this bill does. The VICTOR Act will remove unnecessary obstacles facing veterans in need of organ transplants, making it easier for those who have served our country to receive life-saving surgery.”
Dunn’s proposal had more than 30 co-sponsors, including Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Matt Gaetz, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross, John Rutherford, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed Dunn’s “Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act" without opposition back in May. The North Florida Republican introduced this bill back in September.
Dunn’s bill would direct the VA secretary to connect VA doctors and health care providers to a national network of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) which track prescribing data for patients prescribed drugs like oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone to relieve pain.
The PDMPs identify and alert of abuse patterns in patients, a key step to stopping widespread abuse of the drugs, which are dangerous in part because of their highly addictive properties.
VA doctors consult the state-based PDMPs before prescribing opioids to veterans, some of whom have suffered injuries while fighting wars overseas.
VA doctors currently don’t have the ability to consult a national network of state-based PDMPs, which means patients could potentially hop from state to state filling prescriptions without being detected.
Part of the PDMPs’ shortcomings, according to President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, is the lack of cross-state interoperability. The Commission recommended “enhancing” interstate data sharing among PDMPs to help identify at-risk patients and lessen the potential for drug abuse.
Dunn weighed in on why he championed this proposal last month.
“Veterans across our country are suffering from addiction and opioid abuse. As a doctor and a veteran, I have met heroes who need help, but aren’t finding it at the VA. We can change that,” said Dunn. “The VA is the largest health-care provider in the country, and is in a unique position to lead the initiative to prevent opioid abuse, particularly among our veterans. By increasing transparency in opioid prescribing, we can identify abuse patterns and ensure our veterans are getting the best possible care.”
Dunn’s proposal has the firm support of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee.
“As we work to tackle the opioid epidemic, we must take every step to promote safe prescribing practices that protect America’s heroes from the dangers of opioid abuse,” Roe said after the vote. “I’m proud the House Committee on Veterans Affairs advanced Dr. Dunn’s legislation to allow for the greater sharing of information between VA and state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, and I’m grateful for his continued work on this issue.”
Dunn has rounded up 37 cosponsors including Florida Republicans Rutherford and Yoho and Florida Democrat U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. The bill also has the support of Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. There was no counterpart over in the Senate which helps explain why it was rolled into the current bill.
“Our veterans are true American heroes, let’s give them a fighting chance and ensure no one slips through the cracks and becomes a victim of the opioid crisis,” Dunn said after the committee vote back in May.
Dunn wasn’t the only member of the Florida delegation to applaud the new law.
“With President Trump signing the VA Mission Act into law, we have delivered on another promise to our veterans,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla. “Veterans are now empowered to have more control over their health care and more quality choices within their own communities. I thank President Trump for making serving veterans a priority and working with Congress to enact much needed new laws and accountability. I will continue to work to provide veterans with the quality, efficient and timely services they need and have earned.”
“President Trump’s signing of the VA Mission Act is an important step toward ensuring our veterans have access to the quality care they deserve,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Wednesday. “I thank my colleagues in both the Senate and the House who joined me in advancing this bipartisan effort and President Trump for signing the legislation into law.”
At a White House ceremony on Wednesday, Trump signaled out U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., who joined the House Veterans Affairs Committee last month.
“Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the historic signing of the VA MISSION Act at the White House, which will greatly improve care by giving veterans more flexibility and choice,” Mast noted on Thursday.
The freshman Republican also weighed in on the bill when it passed the House last month.
“Since opening the first-ever congressional office inside a VA facility, we’ve met with hundreds of veterans and opened more than 100 cases to help veterans that are having issues with the VA,” Mast said last month. “As I’ve seen firsthand with my own health-care from the VA, there are many great doctors who go above and beyond for our veterans, but it’s also clear that there are many areas where the VA needs to seriously step up its level of service. The VA MISSION Act is great progress toward ensuring that veterans get more choice and the high level of care that they were promised when they put on a uniform in defense of our country becomes a reality for everybody.”