VA: Veterans Choice funding may run out by December

Veterans affairs sign
The VA said it's not entirely sure when the funds for Veterans Choice will run out, but it could be by the end of the year. (JeffOnWire CC BY 2.0)

Despite emergency action by Congress last month to provide funding for the Veterans Choice program, the Department of Veterans Affairs says the program may need additional funds as early as December. 

The VA said it's not entirely sure when the funds will run out, but it could be by the end of the year. The department would need additional funding in place at least by March, it said in a statement to the Associated Press. 

RELATED: Senate OKs emergency spending package to fund Veterans Choice program

Congress approved $2.1 billion in emergency funding in August to keep the program alive, as VA Secretary David Shulkin said money for the Choice program would likely run out by the middle of that month. Shulkin said the additional funding would be used to bring facilities closer to where veterans live, increasing access to care. 

The Choice program was created in 2014 following a nationwide scandal that revealed thousands of veterans faced months-long waits to receive care at VA facilities. 

RELATED: Veterans Choice isn't the only way the VA improves care for rural veterans 

The department is looking to move forward on a long-term legislative fix, according to the AP. The White House Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing the proposal, which looks to keep the Choice program running for most of next year as the VA makes wider changes. 

RELATED: Trump lauds VA healthcare reforms in speech 

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent a letter on Wednesday to Shulkin requesting additional information on the potential funding shortage, and for him to confirm that the emergency funding approved last month will be enough to keep the Choice program running through the end of the year. 

"On June 21 of this year, I joined several of my colleagues in writing to you to express our serious concerns about reports of financial mismanagement at the VA," McCain wrote. "We said at the time that it was essential, given the growing demand for care under the Choice program, that the VA immediately correct the failures that created such a serious shortfall. It appears as if you have not done so." 

Lawmakers warned when the emergency funding was approved that a more long-term fix was a necessity.