We have a moral obligation to provide our veterans with the best possible healthcare and services. Access to quality medical care is a problem, especially for Black and Brown vets experiencing poverty and homelessness. People of color represent almost 56% of all homeless veterans, even though they represent a small fraction of the U.S. population. All too often, zip codes and economic conditions play a significant role in these disparities.
During my time in the New York State Assembly, I represented Brooklyn’s 57th district, home to hundreds of proud veterans, including those who live in Black and Brown communities who struggle with homelessness and poverty. As a member of the Assembly’s Veterans Affairs Committee, I fought for veterans’ rights to healthcare across New York and our nation – anywhere access to emergency care is limited.
Veterans and underserved communities face emergency transportation issues in Brooklyn and across the city. Excessive traffic and congestion on our streets often impact how quickly first responders can get to the scene of an accident or emergency. And during an emergency, every second counts. Excessive wait times for personnel to arrive can mean life or death.
The "Change in Rates VA Pays for Special Modes of Transportation" is going to cut reimbursement rates for ambulance providers, threatening the stability of the ground and air medical transportation industry and the ability of veterans to access care. Although the rule change has been delayed to February 2025, Washington lawmakers must pass legislation addressing the VA’s shortsightedness.
Critically ill veterans should never be denied emergency transportation due to restrictions under VA policies. That’s why I am imploring Congress to pass the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act. This law will stop the VA from denying payment for emergency transportation based solely on how far a vet lives from the nearest emergency room.
The VA's proposed rule change also threatens the operation of ambulance services in communities across the state and nation. Many of these critical services are already weathering tight budgets and could be forced to shut down, meaning not only a loss of essential resources but a loss of jobs. Many veterans work in these same communities as EMTs and first responders. The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is common-sense legislation with broad bipartisan support. It requires a lengthy review of how any impact in rate changes will affect veterans, creates a forum for industry experts and veterans service organizations to weigh in on proposed changes, and makes sure that there is a formal process in place that either protects or expands veterans’ current access to emergency transportation.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have an obligation to pass this legislation without delay. We can’t allow zip codes and traffic to determine whether our veterans live or die in times of crisis. Their service and sacrifice demand that we act now to guarantee them the care they deserve.
Walter Mosley is a Brooklyn resident and a former New York State Assemblyman who served Brooklyn’s 57th district from 2013 to 2021.