Last night the House failed to pass a bill providing emergency funding for the Veterans Choice Program. Although reauthorized earlier this year by President Trump, VA Secretary David Shulkin surprisingly testified last month that the program was rapidly running out of money and would be depleted by mid-August. This, he said, was due to the popularity of the program.
Although the bill did receive a majority of “yes” votes, according to procedural rules, this bill needed a two-thirds majority in order to pass. Votes were cast almost exclusively along party lines. House Veterans Affairs Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) expressed his disappointment that although both parties agreed to fund the program for the next six months, concerns were raised in debate that hadn’t come up in what he thought was an “open and honest conversation.”
Congress now has just days to come up with a funding option for the Veterans Choice Program before their August recess begins and the program is without funding.
The Choice Program was established as a stopgap measure in the wake of the Phoenix VA wait list scandal in 2014. It was implemented quickly and poorly, and is not without a variety of faults. However, until Congress comes up with a better way for veterans to access healthcare in the community, the Choice Program should be funded so that veterans are not left waiting for care. The popularity of the program which has led to its shortage in funds should be proof enough that veterans want to utilize community care in partnership with their VA care.
The next few days before Congressional recess will prove who’s serious about putting veterans and their healthcare first, and who is more concerned with the politics of allowing choice in VA healthcare.
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