Lawmakers will be returning from recess soon, and when they do they’ll have an urgent issue to deal with when it comes to the Veterans Affairs Choice program. If not dealt with quickly, these funding issues could create massive problems for veterans trying to access services.
VA Secretary David Shulkin testified last month that the funds for the Choice program were drying up faster than anticipated, and bankruptcy was a real concern. At the time, the amount available went from around $2 billion to just $850 million during a single quarter. He requested authorization to be able to move funds from other programs to make sure that none of the veterans under his care had any issues with accessing services like medical appointments when the funds eventually ran out. Unfortunately, Congress went into recess with resolving the issue. The funds are expected to run out completely in early August, so something needs to be done ahead of that.
Some of the problems anticipated are that veterans who get medical care outside the VA system will have longer wait times for appointments with their doctors and caregivers, and some staff from the Choice program will have to be laid off. There may be other unforeseen consequences as well.
“There will be unintended consequences if we continue down this pass because the Choice accounts will start to be used very judiciously” testified acting Va Under Secretary for Health Dr. Poonam Alaigh.
The Choice program has had a bit of a stormy existence since its creation by Congress in 2014. Many conservatives felt it didn’t offer enough choice, and many democrats raised concerns that it brought health services for veterans closer to privatization. Veterans groups, however, are mainly concerned with the bureaucracy involved with the program.
No matter what happens with the funding gap issues this year, Shulkin believes that changes need to be made to the program so that it works better for everyone. However, none of those changes can be made unless Congress approves his request to transfer funds from other accounts. Veterans groups have petitioned Congress for wide-ranging changes to make the program more modern and more easily accessible for veterans needing care.
Shane, Leo. “VA Choice funding problem looms for Congress.” Military Times. Web. 26 July 2017.