Trump extends private-sector health care program for vets

Trump extends private-sector health care program for vets

President Trump took his first concrete step Wednesday to address chronic problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs, signing a bill that extends stopgap services for veterans to go outside the VA medical system for care.

Trump specifically thanked Senator John McCain and Senator Johnny Isakson for their work on the bill, as well as Rep. Phil Roe, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The Choice law allows any veterans who either have had to wait 30 days for an appointment or live 40 miles or more from the nearest VA facility to visit a private doctor.

However, because the 2014 legislation was authorized and funded by emergency measures, a sunset provision was added, so the VA had prepared to restrict medical services in the program beyond the August 2017 termination date.

In a March report, the Government Accountability Office said veterans in the Choice program still face long wait times, mostly because cases must be referred to private contractors for scheduling. "By working together we're going to continue this progress".

In the statement Monday, Poonam Alaigh, acting VA under secretary for health, said the VA was "focused on process improvements". "Our district is home to more veterans than any district in NY, and it is important that we do what we can to take care of our wounded warriors". Those groups generally oppose privatization as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.

Mr. Trump called the law a good start but acknowledged "there is still much work to do".

Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done.

The bigger changes will come this fall, when VA Secretary David Shulkin is expected to unveil a "Choice 2.0" revamp of the program.

More than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system use some Choice care, with agency data pointing to even greater use this year.

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