The Senate quickly passed legislation Tuesday night that would boost funding for a key Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare program by $2.1 billion, in a vote that sends the bill to President Trump’s desk.
The legislation is a response to recent warnings from the VA that funding for its Veterans Choice Program would expire soon without an act of Congress.
The Choice Program gives veterans the option of seeking care outside the VA system in certain circumstances, like when the veteran lives too far away from a VA clinic. The program was created in response to the 2014 wait-list scandal at the VA.
“It is critical that the Veterans Choice Program has the funding to continue offering timely appointments for veterans in their own communities,” said Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., after the Senate vote.
In June, VA Secretary David Shulkin asked Congress to give the VA the authority to shift funds around to keep the program operating. But Congress ignored that request, and in July the House started to move legislation appropriating new money for the program.
Last week, the House passed the bill 414-0, after first adding new language demanded by Democrats. Among other things, the bill would also require the VA to conduct annual performance reviews on political appointees at the department.
The bill drew some opposition from veterans service organizations that fear the Choice Program is a slippery slope toward the privatization of the VA.
Senate votes to boost VA healthcare funding by $2.1 billion