Congress has passed an extension to the Veterans Choice Program, an initiative implemented after the devastating wait list scandal at the Phoenix VA in 2014 to make sure veterans would not wait forever for care.
The House voted Wednesday to reauthorize the program until funding runs out, and since the bill has already been passed in the Senate, it will head to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed.
“By eliminating the sunset date of the Choice Act, Congress is ensuring veterans have certainty and continuity of care while we work with the Trump administration to develop a strategic plan that addresses the need for a veteran-centric, coordinated network of care that utilizes the strengths of both VA and community health providers,” GOP Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said. “I am proud of the bipartisan, bicameral support for this effort and look forward to seeing President Trump sign this important bill into law.”
Passed after the disastrous 2014 wait list scandal, the program allows for any veterans who either have had to wait 30 days for an appointment or live 40 miles from the nearest VA facility to seek care from the private sector.
However, the program has fallen prey to numerous bureaucratic hurdles, making it difficult for many veterans to make the program effective.
Still, VA Secretary David Shulkin has urged for an extension of the program until a more permanent solution can be found. Without the bill’s passage, the program would expire on Aug. 7 with close to a billion dollars still allocated for its use.
Advocacy organization Concerned Veterans for America pushed for Trump to sign the legislation, but also said Congress should look into more major reforms.
“President Trump should sign this measure to extend the Veterans Choice Program, but only with the recognition that this bill does not offer veterans real health care choice and that more permanent solutions are needed quickly,” Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement. “The re-authorization of the Veterans Choice Program will buy Congress some time to pursue larger VA reforms that truly empower veterans with the ability to choose where and when to see a doctor. Continuing the Veterans Choice Program is the better alternative to eliminating it, but only for now.”
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