A long-standing agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process claims for unauthorized migrant medical care is drawing scrutiny from veterans’ advocates, who are concerned that it could jeopardize the agency’s mission of caring for veterans in the midst of an ongoing border crisis and existing complaints about veterans’ care.
“I’d like to understand why the VA is involved,” Russ Duerstine, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America and a veteran of the United States Air Force, told Fox News Digital.
When an illegal immigrant detained by ICE requires medical attention, they are usually treated on-site by medical specialists. If they require expert or emergency treatment, they may be moved to an independent private provider.
In these circumstances, ICE enters into a contract with the VA’s Financial Service Center (VA-FSC) to execute payments to those providers. According to a July report, ICE has hundreds of letters of understanding in which the Health Service Corps (IHSC) of ICE will compensate clinicians at Medicare rates. The VA-FSC’s Healthcare Claims Processing System is used for this, which is a portal that allows clinicians to file and evaluate claims as well as access other services.
The agreement predates the Biden administration by several years. It was outlined in a 2020 memo during the Trump administration, and the VA told Fox News Digital that it has an interagency agreement with the IHSC since 2002 to provide processing. The organization emphasized that it is not the VA’s responsibility to offer or pay for healthcare.
“VA does not provide or fund any health care services to individuals detained in [ICE] custody. At no time are any VA health care professionals or VA funds used for this purpose,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes told Fox News Digital. “[IHSC] provides and pays for all health care services for individuals detained in its custody.”
According to Hayes, the FSC is a “franchise fund organization that offers medical claims processing services to VA and other government agencies.”
It is part of the VA’s Office of Management. ICE pays fees for claims processing services supplied and supports disbursements made to pay for claims under the terms of the agreement with IHSC.
“IHSC is solely responsible for the authorization of health care services and obtaining the providers to deliver the health care,” he said.
ICE further stated in a statement that the VA does not offer or pay any treatment to ICE detainees, instead sending funds to the VA-FSC for reimbursements, and that IHSC spent approximately $352 million in FY23 on a “spectrum of healthcare services” to those in ICE custody.
However, the agreement has startled some veterans’ supporters as well as ICE and Border Patrol personnel who are veterans, according to Fox News Digital. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., asked VA officials about the agreement during a Senate hearing last month, and they said they were unaware of it.
Darin Selnick, who worked as veterans’ affairs adviser on the Domestic Policy Council and as a senior adviser to the VA secretary during the Trump administration, said the arrangement surprised him and others he knew who served throughout the administration. He feels it would have been halted if officials were more aware of it.
“In my position, we would have stopped this, because if the VA had the extra ability to do this, then they should have been doing it for the veterans and not for another agency,” he said.
Concerned Veterans for America’s Duerstine said he’d want to see Veterans’ Affairs committees in Congress dig more into the VA’s involvement.
“That is the solution we need to have,” he said.
Under Biden, the Department of Veterans Affairs processed 161,000 medical and dental care claims for unauthorized migrants in 2022 while postponing medical care for U.S. veterans.
It also comes during a historic border crisis, with over 2.4 million migrant interactions with police at the southern border – despite the Biden administration’s shift away from detaining aliens, especially family groups.
However, it comes amid persistent disagreements between veterans’ groups and the VA regarding the use of community care, with the VA suggesting a preference for using VA facilities rather than independent providers and compensation. Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health Shereef Elnahal told employees during an August employee town hall that the objective is to “reduce our reliance on community care” by maximizing care within VA hospitals. He advised staff to “press the easy button less often with community care.”
“We should be relying on ourselves first and foremost more than anybody else,” he said, adding that “unless we maximize the number of veterans we see while also preventing burnout to the extent that we can, we cannot meet the mark for what veterans deserve.”
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