Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Trump signs extension of VA Choice Program, calls it a 'good start'

Trump signs extension of VA Choice Program, calls it a 'good start'

The Choice program was developed after a 2014 scandal over wait times at the VA medical center in Phoenix.

Veterans service organizations feared that Trump's drumbeat of criticism aimed at the VA during the election campaign signaled the full privatization of veterans' care, but Shulkin said, "I am not in favor of privatization of the VA". "The care we deliver in the VA can't be, and wouldn't be, replaced by the private sector".

"The Choice Program was passed as a quick fix to the wait list manipulation scandal that broke three years ago, and while it's helped, too many veterans still are forced to seek care at failing VA facilities", said Mark Lucas, director of Concerned Veterans of America, a conservative-leaning veterans group.

The $10 billion Choice program allows US armed forces members to seek covered medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics if they are on a waiting list beyond 30 days and live at least 40 miles from the nearest VA facility.

"This is a good day for veterans", he said.

Trump specifically thanked Senator John McCain and Senator Johnny Isakson for their work on the bill, as well as Rep. Phil Roe, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Yet the program itself often encountered long wait times of its own. "Our appeals process is going to remain broken and actually get worse" without major reform of the current rules, which he said were written in the 1930s.

"The VA noted that its technology infrastructure is outdated and needs improvement", the GAO said.

VA officials said the review will not halt the processing of new caregiver applications. Shulkin said last month that the looming expiration had already been affecting veterans' appointments in cases when they were scheduling procedures months in advance.

VA has made a variety of support services available to caregivers of veterans in recent years, but the most significant change is a monthly stipend awarded to some severely disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

With additional claims processors, the VA should be able to begin addressing the backlog of 100,000 initial claims.

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