July 13, 2010

Wyden Secures Commitment from Portland VA Director on Appeals Backlog, Travel Reimbursement

New Portland VA Director meets with Wyden Via Videoconference on First Day on the Job to Discuss Longstanding Concerns

Washington, D.C. – Continuing efforts to give Oregon veterans the quality medical treatment they deserve from the VA, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was able to secure commitments from new Portland VA director, John Patrick, on three pressing issues that have strained veterans’ already stretched finances. The commitments made by Patrick will address concerns over a backlog of Fee Basis appeals stretching back more than two years as well as what appears to be improper charging of third-party health insurance for service-related care. The Director has also committed to exploring ways to maintain systems that allow for immediate reimbursement for travel expenses.

“The meeting with Director Patrick was incredibly constructive.  I appreciate the devotion to the cause he showed spending part of his first day on the job working with me to fix longstanding issues for Oregon’s veterans,” Wyden said. “Veterans have been waiting and waiting for the reimbursements they are owed for outside services and paying bills the VA should have paid. It is good to see that addressing this backlog of appeals and the third party billing are among Mr. Patrick’s highest priorities.”


Currently the Portland VA has a backlog of hundreds of appeals for medical bills charged by medical providers outside the VA commonly called “Fee Basis claims” that stretch back more than two years. These appeals must be adjudicated before veterans are able to recoup expenses spent on services performed outside the VA. Director Patrick has agreed to develop a schedule and assign extra personnel to begin to address the backlog of claims from Veterans seeking reimbursement for medical services performed by third party providers.

Director Patrick has also agreed to create a task force comprised of veterans and veterans advocates to investigate the issue of improper third party billing. There have been reports of outside insurance providers being charged for veterans’ care related to a combat injury.  Such billing is against the law.  The task force will be charged with investigating how such billing occurs and finding ways to prevent it.  The Task Force will also recommend ways to create an appeals process if a veteran feels that his or her third-party insurance was improperly billed.

Finally, Director Patrick agreed to put together another task force, which will include veterans and advocates, to develop a way to ensure that immediate reimbursement of travel expenses stays available to veterans who need it. The Portland VA had recently floated the idea of eliminating immediate reimbursement in favor of a process of mailing checks. Many veterans spend hundreds of dollars to visit the Portland facility and cannot wait for the check to arrive in the mail reimbursing their expenses.

Senator Wyden along with other members of the Oregon Delegation sent letters in the past to the Portland VA Directors, including Mr. Patrick. Those letters are available here.