(August 1, 2017) Not one member of the House voted against a measure Friday to fund the Veterans Choice Program for six months. All 414 votes were in favor of providing the program with $2.1 billion.
The Department of Veterans Affairs program allows qualified veterans to find health care from private providers and send the bill to the VA. VA Secretary David Shulkin had warned Congress that the program would run out of money this month.
The bill now goes to the Senate where it should find easy approval perhaps this week. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the committee, have stated their support.
Veterans groups opposed an earlier bill, saying it was too much of a step toward privatization of veterans’ health care. That bill was rejected in favor of the legislation passed Friday.
The approved bill is not a permanent fix, but gives lawmakers time for a larger reform of the program created in 2014 in the wake of a scandal about long waits for appointments at VA facilities.
“This is just a first step, though a major one, in a transformative process,” Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Friday.
The bill also provides $1.8 billion to fill vacancies at the VA and authorize leases for new VA facilities.
Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., who introduced the provision regarding leases, said, “The demand for VA health care is increasing, and many veterans face long wait times because outdated facilities are too small to accommodate the growing number of men and women seeking care.