WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today introduced the Veterans Increased Choice for Transplanted Organs and Recovery (VICTOR) Act, legislation to expand veterans’ access to lifesaving transplant surgeries.
“When performing organ transplants, experience and frequency impacts outcomes. As a doctor, I can’t understand why the VA forces a veteran to get an organ transplant at a VA facility with less experience than a private facility—especially when the VA facility is thousands of miles away and a more experienced, non-VA facility is closer,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This legislation allows veterans seeking transplants to get the best care. The veteran’s life must come first.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the legislation in November 2017.
The VA has refused to allow veterans access to community transplant care, despite the current CHOICE program. Instead, veterans are forced to go to one of 13 VA transplant centers (VATCs) located across the country, none of which perform all of the transplant services covered by VA. Veterans are effectively prohibited from accessing local, non-VA transplant facilities, even when care at a VATC is not in the best medical interest of the veteran.
Further, reports from the government-funded Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients show that some VATCs are performing transplants at levels well below many non-VA facilities. Research indicates that a higher volume of performed transplants is associated with improved outcomes.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) identified several deficiencies in the VA’s response to allegations made by a whistleblower within the VA transplant program, and concluded that the VA did not fully address significant barriers to quality care. These barriers included a low rate of living donor transplants performed at VATCs, delays in care experienced by veterans when VATCs applied overly restrictive acceptance criteria, and physicians in charge of post-transplant care who were concerned they did not have the level of specialty required to provide proper care.
The legislation is supported by the American Society of Transplantation (AST) and the National Kidney Foundation.
“We applaud Senator Bill Cassidy’s introduction of critical legislation necessary to ensure our country’s veterans have access to transplantation services within their own local communities,” said AST President Dr. Ronald Gill. “Dr. Cassidy’s veterans transplant legislation will allow those veterans most in need to access local community transplant centers when medically necessary, instead of enduring the hardship of frequently traveling long distances away from their homes and enduring excessive wait times. If a veteran is in need of an organ transplant and does not live near a VA transplant center, they should be able to seek transplant care within their own community. AST applauds Dr. Cassidy and his staff on the development and introduction of this important legislation, and looks forward to working closely with the senator to advance this bill on behalf of our nation’s veterans.”