Temporary Funding for VA Choice Program Passes
The Senate passed legislation (S. 114) that would temporarily fix the funding shortfall of the VA Choice program that will be sent onto President Trump to be signed into law. The $2.1 billion provided will allow it to continue for six months as Congress works on other reforms for the program. It would also authorize 28 major medical facility leases and enhance the recruitment, retention and training of the VA workforce.
In FRA’s recent survey (January/February 2017) nearly 81 percent of veterans see quality of VA health care benefits as “Very Important” (the highest rating). The past three years VA and specifically the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have been embroiled in controversy. Since the Phoenix waiting list scandal was uncovered by Congress, a robust debate has ensued on how to reform VHA to ensure it can provide timely, comprehensive and veteran-centric health care to veterans in need. At a recent House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) hearing VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin claimed that VA community care appointments have increased by 61 percent overall since Choice was created. Secretary Shulkin also indicated that last year, 30 percent of all VA appointments were held in the community, rather than in VA medical facilities.
The Association believes that while the “Choice” program has merit, it will require significant oversight to ensure it is effective. Now that the funding short fall has been fixed, Congress should work to provide a transformational change of VA health care by creating an integrated network of VA and community health care providers, with the VA serving as the coordinator and primary care provider. The networks could make decisions about access to community care based on clinical determinations and veterans preferences, rather than subjective time and distance as is the current practice in the choice program.