Nine veteran and military advocacy organizations issued a statement Wednesday urging Congress to grant emergency funds to keep the VA Choice Program alive.
The nine organizations, including the Air Force Association, Association of the United States Navy, Concerned Veterans for America and The Flag and General Officers Network, among others, issued the statement asking Congress to move forward with emergency funding for the VA Choice Program, which allows veterans access to private sector care in the event of excessively long wait times.
“As organizations who represent and support the interests of America’s 21 million veterans, and in fulfillment of our mandate to ensure that the men and women who served receive the health care and benefits they need and deserve, we are calling on Members of Congress to quickly pass the crucial VA Choice funding legislation,” the groups said in a joint statement.
Lawmakers are nearing a deal on extending the program after initial legislation to provide emergency funds failed to clear a required two-thirds majority on Monday. The legislation would have allocated an additional $2 billion to the program, which is rapidly running out of funds and is set to shut down in August.
Part of the reason for the scramble is because Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin abruptly admitted in June the program was headed towards fiscal disaster. Referrals to the VA Choice Program seem to have been higher than anticipated.
Although some veterans’ service organizations protested the attempt to extend the program by stating it would plunder funds belonging to the Veterans Health Administration, the letter pointed out that funding for VA medical care increased by 35 percent by nearly $17 billion from 2010 to 2016. Moreover, the letter noted that not every single VA funding bill deals with all projects or endeavors and added that an upcoming bill is set to increase the VHA budget by $3.9 billion.
“The fact is, VA needs community care programs to take care of our nations veterans. Even with all the additional funding provided the Veterans Health Administration, many veterans need community care either because the VA cannot treat their ailments, or because they do not live near a VA facility,” the letter said. “Veterans deserve continued care by extending the funding for VA Choice for simply six months.”
If August comes without a solution, nine million enrolled veterans who are eligible under the program will no longer have access to community care. At least 170,00 veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility will also lose private sector care.
Shulkin has asked Congress to come up with a funding solution before the Senate enters August recess.
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