Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) April 13, 2017 – The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved legislation on March 8 to extend the Veterans Choice Program. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program allows veterans to seek private care when they are unable to get an appointment at a VA facility.
The committee’s unanimous vote followed a hearing featuring the testimonies of VA Secretary David Shulkin and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain is a member of a bipartisan Senate group supporting the Choice Program’s expansion. They urged lawmakers to eliminate the program’s current August 7 expiration date in order to provide Congress with more time to develop an improved version of it. Shulkin said by then the VA is likely to have a new program, dubbed Choice 2.0.
“The VA’s policies should be geared toward expanding veterans’ access to quality health care,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan veterans attorney. “The Choice program needs to be reworked to allow improved access to community care. Swift action must be taken so that our veterans are not forced to face long wait times for appointments once again.”
Few details have been provided about Choice 2.0. However, Shulkin said the extension would allow the VA to fix current problems such as the streamlining of the process for determining veteran eligibility for private care. He told lawmakers that failure to extend the program beyond its looming expiration date could be disastrous for veterans.
“Into the upcoming weeks and months, we’re going to see more veterans impacted the closer we get to August,” said Shulkin. “That’s why we believe the time to act is now. Many veterans are using the Choice Program today, and it is important to continue to care for and support those veterans.”
The Veterans Choice Program was established in 2014 following a scandal in which veterans died while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital. It was later discovered that patients were suffering long wait times at VA facilities nationwide.
The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Randall Williamson testified to the committee that the VA has yet to calculate the cost of an improved program. Additionally, his office recently released a report pointing out poor management of the Veterans Choice Program.
Shulkin admitted that the program was “complex.” However, he emphasized the need for Congress to reauthorize the program now to ensure that veterans using it do not experience gaps in care before Choice 2.0 comes into effect. McCain also reassured opponents of the program’s extension that it does not mean privatization of the agency. The proposed bill will go to the full House for a vote.
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