Weeks after a veterans’ health initiative received $2.1 billion in emergency funding, the Trump administration says the private-sector Veterans Choice health care program may need additional money as early as December to avoid a disruption of care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement Tuesday that it hoped to move quickly on a proposed long-term legislative fix that would give veterans even wider access to private doctors. The proposal, under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would seek money to keep Choice running for much of next year as VA implements wider changes.
On Capitol Hill, the House Veterans Affairs Committee was already anticipating that the emergency funding approved in August may not last the full six months, according to spokespeople for both Republican and Democratic members on the panel. They cited the VA’s past problems in estimating Choice program cost. That committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said they were closely monitoring the situation.
“It’s disheartening,” said Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, citing his group’s continuing conversations with VA about Choice funding. “Imagine if a veteran has to cease chemotherapy treatment during Christmas.”
Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters, said recent discussions with VA also gave him little confidence.
“It’s always a concern,” Augustine said. “Legislative action needs to be done sooner rather than later.”
In its statement to The Associated Press, VA said it could not say for certain when Choice funds would be depleted, but acknowledged that it could be as early as December or as late as March. Earlier this year, the VA began limiting referrals to outside doctors as money began to run low and veterans reported delays in care.
The VA proposal for a long-term fix is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“We have a long agenda, a lot more to do,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told veterans last week at an event near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “This fall, our major legislative focus is getting the Choice program working right.”
The latest funding woes come amid political disagreement over the future direction of VA and its troubled Choice program, which was passed by Congress in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center that spread nationwide. Some veterans died…