The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act (VACAA) of 2014, which directed the establishment of a new program to help veterans who need health care services or treatment for unreasonably delay times or if a VA medical facility is too far from a Veteran’s home is running into funding issues once again.
The funding was extended twice in 2017, in April and latest in August when Congress added $2.1 billion to the program but now, the program funding is expected to run out again in January 2018.
The controversial Veterans Affairs health program is just weeks away from running out of money and disrupting care for thousands of patients.
And, for the second time over that span, lawmakers hoping for sweeping changes to VA health operations are scrambling to balance their long-term solutions with a short-term funding headache.
At issue is the Veterans Choice Program, which allows some veterans to receive private-sector care paid for with taxpayer dollars. The program is restricted to veterans who live 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or face a 30-day wait for care there, and has been at the center of debates over how to best deliver medical care to ailing veterans.
On Tuesday, VA Secretary David Shulkin officially informed lawmakers that he expects the program to run out of money sometime in the next month. He is requesting yet more intervention from Congress.
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“Nearly 1.9 million veterans have sought care through the VCP since its implementation (in 2014),” he wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. “Unless additional funds are provided, veterans using the current VCP will be less able to access timely health care as close to their homes as possible.”
Shulkin had warned as far back as August that VA would face a new funding shortfall at the start of 2018, and lawmakers used that warning as an impetus for a series of sweeping new VA health care reform proposals currently pending on Capitol Hill.
The furthest along is a measure sponsored by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., which would add $3 billion in bridge funding to the Choice program but eventually replace it with a new community care initiative that would provide easier access to non-VA medical appointments for veterans.
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