Trump signs bill allowing veterans to seek care outside broken VA system

WASHINGTON, D.C.- President Trump signed legislation Wednesday that will dramatically expand a program at the Department of Veterans Affairs that lets patients seek care from private doctors if they want to bypass the troubled VA system.

The Veterans Choice Improvement Act removes barriers that Congress placed around the original “choice” initiative and eliminates an expiration date that would have shuttered the program in August.

Lawmakers created the choice program in 2014 after a massive scandal involving wait time cover-ups at more than 100 VA facilities around the country. It was initially structured as a two-year pilot program that limited when and where veterans could choose to see private doctors. Patients could only use the choice program if they lived more than 40 miles from the nearest VA hospital or if they could not get an appointment from their local VA facility within 30 days.

The choice program has proven controversial since its inception three years ago. Critics have questioned whether increasing veterans’ reliance on private doctors might move the VA toward privatization, while proponents of such efforts have accused the VA of resisting steps to implement the program in order to protect the status quo.

Walter Reed Medical Center
Walter Reed Medical Center. AP

Some veterans advocates, such as Concerned Veterans for America, praised the administration’s temporary push to extend choice but encouraged lawmakers to continue searching for solutions to the VA’s ongoing struggles with long wait times.

“Extending the Choice Program is the right thing to do, but only as a stopgap measure until better solutions are developed and implemented,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at CVA. “Reauthorizing the Choice Act buys Congress some time to work with Secretary [David] Shulkin on broader choice reforms that will truly empower veterans with the ability to seek care outside the VA when they want to.”

 

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