Funding Extends Veterans Choice Program for Another Six Months

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON—Calling it another “tangible improvement” for veterans, VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, lauded the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, which was signed into law last month.

The law authorizes $2.1 billion in Choice funding, temporarily extending that program for six more months. In addition, the law provides $1.8 billion for leases for 28 major medical facilities and for hiring and workforce improvement.

“This bill allows us to continue to be able to provide care in the community for our veterans. … Already this year, in the first six months of this year, we have authorized over 15 million appointments for veterans in the community. That is 4 million more than what was experienced at this time last year,” Shulkin said at the signing of the bill by President Donald Trump.

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on the future of the Veterans Choice Program in June. Photo courtesy of the committee.

Shulkin pointed out that the new law was only a “temporary fix” for the Choice program.

“We still have more work to do with Congress and with the president’s support. We have to collapse eight different ways of paying for community care into a single program and to simplify it,” he explained.

The current bill passed with bipartisan support.

Ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), noted that the new bill “ensures that veterans will be able to seek care in their own community when it makes sense for them, while also making investments in the VA by expanding the department’s capacity to recruit and retain top of the line physicians and caregivers.”

An earlier version of the bill—which only contained Choice funding—failed after meeting with resistance from veteran service organizations (VSO) who voiced concerns that more resources needed to be put in VA care.

“If new funding is directed only or primarily to private sector “choice” care without any adequate investment to modernize VA, the viability of the entire system will soon be in danger,” eight VSO’s said in a joint statement about the the original bill.

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