Trump extends private-sector health care program for vets

President Donald Trump signed into law a bill Wednesday expanding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows some veterans to opt for private care.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he will hold a news conference on April 27 to discuss veterans issues, as he tries to elevate an issue he campaigned on heavily past year.

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, applauded the decision by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to suspend revocations and launch an internal review of the VA Caregiver program. Under the bill, the VA will be allowed to operate its Choice program until the funding runs out.

Veterans Choice was set to expire in August.

Trump said the bill will ensure that veterans "don't have to wait and travel long distances for VA care". That proposal is due out by fall.

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Trump pledged to hold a news conference next week on "all of the tremendous things that are happening at the VA and what we've done in terms of progress and achievement".

"The Choice program was passed as a quick fix to the wait list manipulation scandal that broke three years ago", said Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America. It also makes the VA the primary payer for medical care relating to non-service connected disabilities and allows the VA to share medical information with non-VA entities.

"This new law is a good start but there is still much work to do".

In the statement Monday, Poonam Alaigh, acting VA under secretary for health, said the VA was "focused on process improvements". So why extend a program that, arguably, caused more problems than it solved? "We look forward to supporting legislation that will let veterans go outside the VA for care when they want or need to".

More than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system use some Choice care, with agency data pointing to even greater use this year. He said more work is needed, but called the legislation "an important first step".

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