The House on Monday rejected legislation that would add $2 billion in new funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Choice Program, which allows former servicemembers to get non-VA medical care if they face extended wait times or live more than 40 miles from a VA medical center.
The Republican leaders were apparently confident that the funding would pass easily, as they brought it up as a suspension bill, which would have allowed them to pass it more quickly with a two-thirds majority vote.
However, almost all Democrats voted against the bill; it failed in a 219-187 vote. Republicans may try to pass it again under regular order with a simple majority.
The Choice Program was created in 2014 after stories became public about veterans having to wait weeks and weeks to get VA health care.
The VA worries that the funding for the program will expire in mid-August rather than at the end of the current fiscal year. So VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote a letter to the House Veterans Affairs Committee asking for Congress to quickly approve new funding.
However, the new funding aroused opposition from some major veterans service organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association said in a statement that the bill dismisses funding for health programs.
Democrats may have used this reasoning to vote against the bill. But Concerned Veterans for American speculated that that groups opposing the bill may just be opposed to any choice program.
“This is a transparent attempt by some of these veterans service organization to kill the Choice Program,” CVA policy director Dan Caldwell told the Washington Examiner.
CVA executive director Mark Lucas also criticized Democrats for their surprising flip on the bill, saying that they spread false information to connect the bill to unnecessary VA spending.
Republicans will be scrambling to fix this disappointing setback due to the House’s August recess peering around the corner at the end of this week.