(August 8, 2017) The Senate unanimously approved(link is external) legislation last week to provide $2.1 billion to fund the Veterans Choice program, which was in danger of running out of money by mid-August.
Another $1.8 billion would go to other Department of Veterans Affairs programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities.
The House approved the bill a week earlier. After Senate passage, it went to President Donald Trump for his signature.
VA Secretary David Shulkin previously said the additional funding would help bring new facilities closer to where veterans live, so care and access will be more convenient. Congress created the Veterans Choice program in 2014 following a national scandal that revealed thousands of veterans waited months to receive care at VA facilities.
Under Choice, any veteran who lives 40 miles or more from the closest VA medical facility or who faces a 30-day or more wait time can seek treatment from a private facility and the VA will cover the payment.
Veterans in Alaska and Hawaii are automatically enrolled in the program. In New Hampshire, the distance requirement is only 20 miles.
The approved bill is not a permanent fix, but gives lawmakers time for a larger reform of the program.
“This is just a first step, though a major one, in a transformative process,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.