WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies – spoke on the Senate floor this week regarding the importance of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Choice program in helping veterans access healthcare in their communities nationwide.
“One of the most important ways we honor our nation’s heroes is by following through on our commitment to providing the benefits they deserve, including access to timely, quality healthcare,” said Sen. Moran following his remarks. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation where a program – the Veterans Choice program – designed to increase veterans’ access to care is in danger of running out of funds far sooner than anticipated. This is a result of the program’s success. Veterans want Choice, they need Choice and the program is working. We must act so that the VA does not let them down by ending the Choice program and shuttering the network of community providers who offer this critical care.
“In 2014, I urged my colleagues to support Choice, and now I again urge my colleagues to support a program veterans like, need and deserve,” Sen. Moran continued. “We owe them better, which is why I am once again partnering with Senator McCain to put funds back into the Choice Program, making certain that our veterans do not experience a lapse in care. The Senate must act.”
In 2014, Congress passed the Choice Act in the wake of the wait time scandals in Phoenix, Ariz. and at VA locations nationwide. The Choice program empowers veterans to access healthcare in their own communities rather than adding hours of driving to VA facilities to their lists of hurdles in receiving the medical attention they need. The program was originally set to expire on August 7th, 2017. Earlier this year, however, the VA indicated to Congress that there would be more than $1 billion remaining to fund this program and estimated these funds would last until January of 2018. Rather than letting these funds expire, Sen. Moran joined U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), along with Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, respectively, and others in introducing legislation to remove this sunset date and extend the Veterans Choice Program for veterans until the program’s funds were expended. This legislation was signed into law on April 19th.
On June 7th, 2017, the VA indicated that demand for Choice had increased at an unanticipated rate and program funds were rapidly depleting. In an attempt to extend the program, the VA issued guidance to limit the use of Choice by VA medical centers. Sen. Moran called on Secretary Shulkin to withdraw this guidance, urging him to work with Congress to find a solution. On June 21st, Sen. Moran convened a hearing with Sec. Shulkin, who explained the VA’s inaccurate cost projections and budget shortfall in the Veterans Choice Program. The Secretary agreed that the VA requires additional funding to continue the Veterans Choice Program and serve veterans who rely on care in their communities.