Former Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin told lawmakers in February that the Choice Program is set to run out of money in late May. The Choice Program, which was established in 2014 following the VA’s wait-time scandal, gives veterans options to visit non-VA health-care facilities if they face delays or travel burdens. Public Law 113-146, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, included $10 billion in mandatory funding. Congress provided another $4.2 billion in total last year for the program; VA says it spends between $200 million and $400 million per month on the Choice Program.
Last November, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) approved the bill S. 2193, Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017. And in December, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) advanced bill H.R. 4242, VA Care in the Community Act.
The bill overhauling the program had two provisions. One calls on the VA Secretary to establish standards for health-care quality and accessibility. If certain VA facilities do not meet those standards, the department would be required to offer care at non-VA facilities. Another provision allows veterans to seek outside care through an appeals process. Both could potentially be used as a backdoor to privatizing the VA, which The American Legion opposes.
SVAC Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., still hopes to pass S. 2193, and has talked to leadership about holding a floor vote in the near future. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not announced plans for a vote.
House Democrats are concerned that the bill sponsored by HVAC Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., has measures to open the door to privatization, particularly for mental health services, that it removes congressional oversight on VA infrastructure, and that it creates uncertainty with the VA’s budget.
The bill should include funding for the current Choice Program because it could take about a year to implement the new bill’s measures if it passes.
Adult day health care legislation becomes law
On March 27, President Trump signed P.L. 114-159, the State Veterans Home Adult Day Health Care Improvement Act of 2017, to expand access to adult day health care.
The measure directs VA to enter into an agreement or a contract with state veterans homes to pay for adult day health care for a veteran eligible for, but not receiving, nursing home care. This law requires the VA Secretary to establish a payment rate through regulations, however, until that rate is published it stipulates that payment under each agreement or contract between VA and a state home must equal 65 percent of the payment that VA would otherwise pay to the state home if the veteran were receiving nursing home care.