WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump has signed a bill extending a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector.
The extension will give Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin time to develop a more comprehensive plan to allow veterans to more easily go outside the VA health system for care. The new law allows the VA to operate its Choice program until its funding runs out, expected early next year.
Trump says veterans have "not been taken care of properly" and the bill will extend and improve the program so they can see any doctor they choose.
The Choice program was put in place after a 2014 scandal over long wait times for vets at the VA medical center in Phoenix.
Sen. John McCain released the following statement on President Trump's signing of the new bill:
“I am gratified that President Trump today signed into law legislation that eliminates the sunset date on the Veterans Choice Program and ensures veterans continue to have access to timely and convenient health care in their communities. In the wake of the terrible scandal in care at the Phoenix VA and VA hospitals around the country, we made a promise that our veterans would never again be forced to face unacceptable wait-times for appointments, or drive unreasonable distances, to get the care they need. This legislation ensures we keep that promise as we continue the hard work of fully reforming the VA and enhancing health care for all veterans.
“Since Congress passed legislation creating the Veterans Choice Program, more than a million veterans have made seven million appointments with hundreds of thousands of health care providers in their own communities using the Choice Card. This represents millions of appointments that would have otherwise lagged in the VA’s scheduling system for everything from routine check-ups and diagnostic tests to life saving heart and cancer treatment.
“As we mark the three year anniversary this month of the scandal in care at the VA, the enactment of the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act sends an important message that we will not send our veterans back to the status quo of unending wait-times for appointments and substandard care. We have a long way to go to fully reform veterans’ health care, but today’s legislation is an important first step in that effort.”
The program was to have expired in August.