On July 28, 2017 the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation, S. 114, that would provide an additional $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program over the next six months by a vote of 414-0. The Veterans Choice Program was created by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (PL. 113-146) to allow veterans to receive services from health care providers outside the VA - including county health care providers - if they live over 40 miles from a VA facility, if they experience wait times longer than 30 days or if the veteran’s specific health care needs require private care. This emergency funding legislation comes just a couple weeks before existing funding for the program was set to run out.
Originally funded at $10 billion through the congressional appropriations process, the program has run out of funds quicker than expected after demand and costs for the program have increased. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin has warned lawmakers that funds will run out by mid-August without congressional action.
After working through objections from Democrats and several veterans groups over the House’s original plan to shift $2 billion from other VA accounts to pay for the Choice Program, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.) endorsed compromise language that would provide an additional $100 million for the program (bringing the total to $2.1 billion in new funding), require annual performance reviews for political appointees, include language aimed at improving hiring, retention and training of VA staff, and renew leases for 28 major medical facilities. Chairman Roe also stressed that this funding extension was important to ensuring veterans don’t lose access to the private care they are currently receiving as the committee works to develop broader reforms to the VA’s private care programs.
Counties support improving access to quality health services for all, including our nation’s veterans, and encourages full funding of veterans’ services, particularly those that provide reimbursements to community agencies, including county service providers, for services provided to veterans who are otherwise eligible for VA care. NACo will continue to work with Congress and the administration as they take further action to ensure counties have the tools and resources necessary to meet the needs of our veterans.