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Despite backlog of veterans’ claims, VA using resources to help illegal immigrants

GOP legislation aims to stop resources for veterans' healthcare going toward border crisis.

Published: December 27, 2023 11:06pm

Updated: January 5, 2024 12:36pm

With hundreds of thousands of veterans’ healthcare claims on backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), top Republicans in the House and Senate are hoping to prevent VA resources from being used to process claims for medical care of illegal immigrants.

According to a July report from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency contracts with the VA to process medical claims reimbursements involving illegal immigrants even though they did not serve in the U.S. military. Medical professionals treat illegal immigrants detained by ICE on site, but when specialized or emergency care is required, they are transported to private providers, according to Fox News. The arrangement between ICE and the VA was outlined in a 2020 memo during the Trump administration, Fox News reported.

According to the ICE report, in fiscal year 2022, the VA processed healthcare claims for illegal immigrants totaling more than $63.6 million in medical services. That number is expected to rise in fiscal year 2023, the report explains, because providers have one year after the date of service to submit claims.

Terrence Hayes, spokesperson for the VA, told Fox News that the VA doesn’t provide any healthcare services to individuals who ICE detains. All healthcare expenses are paid for and provided by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Health Service Corps, he said.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., in October pressed the VA to address a backlog of more than 300,000 claims, meaning they’ve been pending for more than 125 days. That number, according to a statement from Spanberger, is expected to increase in 2024 to over 400,000 as a result of expanded healthcare benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service.

At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs in November, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the committee, questioned the panel of Biden administration officials about what role the VA was taking in healthcare provided to illegal immigrants.

Derrick Jaastad, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management for the Veterans Health Administration, said that part of the agency’s mission is taking care of federal interagency partners. As an example, he said that it administered thousands of COVID vaccines.

We are “taking care of our colleagues in uniform in the Customs and Border Patrol,” Jaastad explained, but he didn’t state if any VA resources were being used in the course of providing healthcare to illegals. The CPB does have a program designed to assist its agents who are veterans, called the "Veteran Support Program," but that assistance is exclusively for vets who also served with CPB.

Tuberville introduced legislation this month to stop VA resources from being used to provide taxpayer-funded healthcare to illegal immigrants. “Joe Biden is putting illegal immigrants over America’s veterans. It is outrageous. Our veterans should not be forced to wait in long lines at VA medical centers and clinics to get the care they earned while illegal immigrants waltz across our open border and get taxpayer-funded healthcare they never earned,” Tuberville said in a statement.

The Concerned Veterans of America (CVA) criticized the use of VA resources to process the claims at a time veterans are having trouble getting the care they need. “The VA is spending a significant portion of time and manpower managing care for noncitizens who didn’t earn it. But the problem is less about who is getting the care and more about who is not,” the organization said in a statement on the issue.

According to the group, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, VA staff are misleading and discouraging veterans from using community care options when the VA can’t meet standards for wait times. Russ Duerstine, executive director of CVA, said in the statement that the Biden administration is failing “our nation’s heroes,” by failing to provide timely health care and putting up obstacles to veterans in need.

In addition to the lack of services for veterans, “the VA has paved the way for unauthorized migrants and non-citizens to easily use community care intended for veterans. This betrays the veterans who earned care through their blood, sweat, and tears,” Duerstine said.

At a press conference on immigration reform earlier this month, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., criticized President Biden for putting the needs of illegal immigrants over those of America’s veterans. “Veterans have a hard enough time getting the care that they need and now they have to compete with illegal immigrants? This will not fix the border crisis. Biden’s border crisis puts illegal immigrants first, it puts our veterans last,” Daines said.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., who is chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee introduced a House companion bill to Tuberville’s. "Joe Biden’s failed border policies have created a humanitarian and national security crisis. Now it appears he’s taking resources away from our veterans to facilitate healthcare for illegal migrants," Bost, said in a statement announcing the legislation. “As a Marine, I believe any dollar taken away from a veteran is a promise broken to those who served.”