​​​​​​​House measure to cover Veterans Choice shortfall fails

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Congress has a very limited window to address a budget shortfall in the Veterans Choice program.

A House of Representatives bill aimed at providing stopgap funding for the Veterans Choice program was spiked Monday, leaving Congress with little time to address a looming budget shortfall in the program.

The bill would have provided $2 billion to keep the program alive by diverting funds from other areas of the Department of Veterans Affairs and without allocating additional funds for in-house care, according to The New York Times.

The bill would likely have passed under a normal vote, according to the article, but Republicans brought it to the floor as a suspended vote, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass. Almost all Democrats voted against the measure.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., told Congress in June that the program’s funding could run out by the beginning of August, leaving Congress a limited window to address the issue, as its upcoming recess approaches.

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The proposal was not popular with some major veterans groups like Veterans of Foreign Wars, a number of whom released a joint statement saying the bill’s defeat is an “opportunity” for Congress make other improvements to VA healthcare, not just extend the Choice program.

“With tonight's vote result, there is now a new opening for the House and Senate to work together in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to rapidly reach agreement to continue funding the Choice program uninterrupted in the short term—without forcing veterans themselves to pay for it—while also making long overdue and urgent investments in VA healthcare capacity for the long term,” the groups said.

The Choice program was created in 2014 following a nationwide scandal that revealed thousands of veterans faced long waits to receive care at VA facilities. It allowed veterans to seek care outside of the VA system if the nearest facility is too far away from where they live or they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment in the VA network. The program was recently extended beyond its Aug. 7 end date by the Trump administration.

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Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), which submitted a letter to Congress last week in support of a quick response to the Choice program’s shortfall, said in a statement that some members of Congress who “used this as an opportunity to advance a misleading anti-choice agenda are standing directly between millions of veterans and their healthcare.”

“In the long term, not only should the Veterans Choice Program be saved, it should be reformed and permanently expanded,” CVA Executive Director Mark Lucas said in the statement. “What we care about is getting veterans access to the care they need.”

The VA has faced intense scrutiny in the wake of the wait time scandal. Since then, hospitals from North Carolina to Houston to the District of Columbia have come under fire for practices that may have put patients at risk.

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