It was a dramatic week in Veterans Affairs last week, but on Friday the House finally passed legislation to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program. Lawmakers introduced a measure to continue funding at the beginning of last week, however it was shot down, mostly along party lines.
But Friday was a different story. The House passed Choice Program funding legislation unanimously, as part of a $3.9 billion spending package. This package also included much needed hiring authority for the VA. Just last month, Secretary Shulkin warned that without emergency funding, the program would go bankrupt by mid-August. The House acted just in time, as they left for August recess soon after the vote. The Senate however has a delayed recess, and they will get ahold of the bill next.
The process to get this funding was made cumbersome and difficult. Legislators and some veterans organizations ignored the crisis situation of needed funds for the Choice Program and instead used it as an opportunity to push an anti-choice campaign and tack on additionally spending. In reality, Secretary Shulkin should have been given authority to shift funding into the Choice Program rather than going through a burdensome process.
Although funding the Choice Program is necessary in the interim, the program needs an extensive overhaul and update. The program’s popularity speaks to the desire of veterans to control their own medical care, and a new choice program should reflect that. Now that the program is funded and can continue offering private-sector care options, Congress must focus on how it will reform the program so this isn’t an issue in the future.
More updates to come as the Senate takes up this bill, and continue the conversation on reforming choice for veterans.
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