A long-standing agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process migrant health care applications is being criticized by veterans advocates – who fear it will compromise the agency’s mission to care for veterans could — closely scrutinize an ongoing border crisis and existing complaints about care for veterans.

“I would like to understand why the VA is involved,” Russ Duerstine, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America and a United States Air Force veteran, told Fox News Digital.

If an illegal immigrant in ICE detention needs medical care, they will typically be treated on-site by medical professionals. However, if specialist or emergency care is required, they may be transported to an independent private provider.

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In such cases, ICE contracts with the VA’s Financial Service Center (VA-FSC) to process refunds to these providers. According to a July report, ICE has hundreds of letters of intent in which ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) reimburses providers at Medicare rates. This uses the VA-FSC’s Healthcare Claims Processing System – a portal that allows providers to submit and view claims and access other resources.

Migrants end up in U.S. custody after crossing the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 29. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

The agreement long predates the Biden administration. This was laid out in a 2020 memo during the Trump administration, and the VA told Fox News Digital that it has had an interagency agreement with the IHSC to provide the processing since 2002. The agency emphasized that it is not the VA that provides or pays for health care.

“VA does not provide or fund health care services for incarcerated individuals [ICE] Custody. “At no time will VA medical professionals or funds be used for this purpose,” VA spokesman Terrence Hayes told Fox News Digital. “[IHSC] provides and pays for all health services for those in its custody.”

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Hayes said the FSC, part of the VA’s Office of Management, is a “franchise fund organization that provides medical claims processing services to VA and other government agencies.” Under the agreement with IHSC, ICE pays fees for claims processing services provided and pays disbursements to settle claims.

“IHSC is solely responsible for approving health care services and sourcing providers to deliver health care,” he said.

In a statement, ICE also said that the VA does not provide or fund services for ICE detainees, but instead provides funding to the VA-FSC for reimbursements, and that IHSC has an operating budget of nearly $352 million for the “spectrum of health care services.” “created” to individuals in ICE custody in FY23.

But the agreement has surprised some veterans advocates, and the ICE and Border Patrol agents Fox News Digital spoke with are veterans themselves. VA officials were also asked about the agreement at a Senate hearing last month by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and said they were unaware of it.

Darin Selnick, who served as a Veterans Affairs adviser on the Domestic Policy Council during the Trump administration and also as a senior adviser to the VA secretary, said the agreement was also one for him and others he knew who served during the administration been a surprise. He believes it would have been stopped if it had become more widely known among officials.

A flight operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will bring Venezuelan nationals back to Venezuela on Oct. 18, becoming the first flight to resume repatriating Venezuelan nationals who enter the U.S. illegally. (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

“In my position we would have stopped this because if the VA had the additional ability to do this, then they should have done it for the veterans and not another agency,” he said.

Duerstine, of Concerned Veterans for America, said he would like to see congressional veterans’ affairs committees take a deeper look at the VA’s role.

“This is the solution we need,” he said.

It also comes amid a historic crisis at the border, with more than 2.4 million migrants encountered by authorities at the southern border — even as the Biden administration has backed away from detaining immigrants, including family units.

But it also comes amid ongoing tensions between veterans advocates and the VA over the use of community care, with the VA saying it wants to encourage the use of VA facilities rather than the use of independent providers and reimbursement. In a video from an August employee town hall shared with Fox, Veterans Affairs Undersecretary of Health Shereef Elnahal was seen telling employees that the goal was to “reduce our reliance on community care by maximizing care in VA facilities. He urged staff to “press the easy button less” when it comes to community care.

“We should rely on ourselves, first and foremost, more than anyone else,” he said, adding: “If we don’t maximize the number of veterans we see while preventing burnout as much as possible, we can fail to meet expectations of veterans don’t fulfill.” deserve.”

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The VA has rejected claims that it does not provide adequate health care, pointing to statistics showing that it provided veterans with the most health care appointments in the VA’s history, with trust scores reaching 91%. Additionally, there were more than 44 million appointments through Community Care, the most in the agency’s history.

It also highlighted high ratings of VA healthcare facilities that outperform non-VA facilities and a review of studies suggesting VA care is as good or better than that of non-VA hospitals.

But the VA is also struggling with burnout and general concerns about staffing shortages and claims processing backlogs. Duerstine said the VA-ICE agreement would likely be less problematic if “the VA wasn’t abandoning veterans.”

“This is the real problem: Veterans are not getting the health care they deserve through community care and are being blocked every step of the way. There is no excuse for this,” he said.

Selnick said there has been a “historical backlog of medical claims that has resulted in veterans receiving bills they shouldn’t and … unhappy community care providers who have not been paid on a timely basis.”

“So when you talk about health care, you should just talk about supporting the VA mission of veterans’ health,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs building is seen on July 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. (ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)

A Border Patrol agent who spoke to Fox said that while they personally received good community care, other veterans they knew had difficulty accessing it, while illegal immigrants did not have this problem.

“They pretty much don’t get what they want, they pretty much get what they need, be it a specialist… they get it,” the agent said.

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The agent also highlighted low-income veterans who faced additional problems: “And we’re here helping everyone else, in our own backyard.”

An ICE agent, who is also a veteran, told Fox News Digital that they have repeatedly had difficulty accessing community care for certain health services – including services like neurology – and that they are frustrated that illegal immigrants could be seen by vendors in the community.

“We served in the military in this country and can use these benefits in the VA and I pay exorbitant taxes to this country and can’t even be seen for basic needs,” the agent said. “But illegals can, they can literally cross the border with all these pre-existing medical injuries or illnesses or whatever they have and they literally go straight to a primary care doctor or specialty doctor and get the services that they need.”

Adam Shaw is a political reporter for Fox News Digital, covering immigration and border security.

He can be reached at [email protected] or at Twitter.

Source : www.foxnews.com

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