woman speaking
Dana Ritchie, AHCA/NCAL’s associate vice president for member services and government relations, makes remarks during the Congressional Briefing. (Photo by Kim Marselas)

WASHINGTON, DC — Assisted living operators may be wary of certain attention from the federal government, but one piece of legislation that major provider groups have been advocating to be passed for years finally may be moving toward that reality.

The Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act, which would create a pilot program to offer participating veterans the opportunity to have their care needs met via assisted living rather than at a Department of Veterans Affairs home, could be considered on the House floor as soon as next week. That’s according to Dana Ritchie, associate vice president for member services and government relations for the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, speaking Monday at the groups’ Congressional Briefing.

“Portions of this essentially are included in the Sen. Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veteran Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act,” she said.

The Dole Act, also known as HR 8371, was introduced by Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) on May 14. A press release from his office called the legislation “the flagship veterans package for the 118th Congress” and said that it “encompasses a number of bipartisan and bicameral proposals to reform and improve the delivery of healthcare, benefits, and services at the VA for veterans, their families, and their survivors.” 

One of those proposals is the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act, which would enable 60 veterans in two Veterans Integrated Service Networks to receive assisted living services via a three-year pilot program that also would measure their satisfaction with the effort. The legislation would require that participating facilities be located in geographically diverse regions, with at least one test site serving veterans in a rural or highly rural area and at least one being a state home.

The program would end Sept. 30, 2026, unless it is extended. All veterans participating at the time of the termination would have the option to continue to receive assisted living services at the site to which they were assigned, at the expense of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A VA official testified last year at a House subcommittee hearing that the agency supports the bill conditionally. Legislation promoting the pilot program was reintroduced in 2023 after stalling in 2022.

In the current session of Congress, the Veterans’ Options Act is known as S 495 and HR 1815. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who introduced the bill in the Senate in February 2023 along with Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), spoke at the AHCA/NCAL Congressional Briefing Monday night. In the House, the legislation was introduced in March 2023 by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-NY).

“This is definitely exciting, and hopefully we get some traction forward with it,” Ritchie said. “This is a coalition effort.”

NCAL Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs Jill Schewe noted that the Veterans’ Options bill was a key initiative for NCAL during last year’s Congressional Briefing

“The fruits of that advocacy last year are paying off this year,” she said. “That’s half the battle with this, just keeping the drum beating, making sure they hear it over and over again. We’re making progress.”

In addition to receiving backing from NCAL, the Veterans’ Options Act also is supported by the American Seniors Housing Association, Argentum and LeadingAge, among other organizations. The senior living industry advocates say that the program would save money because the cost of care in assisted living is half of that of the cost of care in a VA nursing home and note that some veterans don’t need nursing home-level care.

The groups co-signed a May 15 letter with national Alzheimer’s and veterans’ organizations asking House and Senate leadership to support the Dole Act.

The 2024 AHCA/NCAL Congressional Briefing ended Tuesday.