After significant lobbying on the part of Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), an effort to fund the Veterans Choice Program that would have furthered eroded Veterans Health Administration (VHA) services, failed. Nine VSOs signed a letter to the Chairs of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees protesting efforts to provide funds to private sector providers without adequately funding the VHA. Congress heeded these protests and passed a bill that would provide $2 billion for the Choice program until the end of fiscal year 2018 and $1.4 billion for the VA. Although this was a definite victory for those who support the VHA, the fight is not over.
Support to Limit VA’s Mission Gains Ground
FFVHC representatives in Washington, D.C. met with Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee Staff during the August Congressional recess. In terms of proposals for Veterans Choice Program 2018 renewal, they learned that it appears that the idea to “Make Choice Cards Universal” is losing support but that “Limit the VA’s Core Mission to Foundational Conditions” and “Allow Choice Eligibility Based On A Composite Community Standard Metric” is gaining ground.
As FFVHC identified in our recent policy analysis, both of these ideas, if implemented, would hasten privatization of the VA.
Bill to Prevent VHA Funding Crisis
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT) has developed a draft ‘Veterans Community Care Program” bill which aims to ensure that expensive, outsourced veterans’ care in the community does not bleed VHA dry. Every dollar increase in Choice allocations would be matched by a dollar increase in VHA. The VHA would continue to control utilization. Surveys would be required yearly of veterans’ satisfaction with, and time waiting for, care received via Choice and VHA.
$5 Billion to fill 45,000 Vacancies?
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Member Bernie Sanders has introduced the The Strengthening Veterans Health Care Act of 2017. This bill would allocate $5 billion to the VA to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to fill these vacancies and ensure that veterans continue to get the best care in a timely manner.
These are the only proposals to “Strengthen the VA” (with more funding). They have yet to garner sufficient support to get beyond their respective Committees. Expect a contentious battle when Congress takes up the issue now that they’re back from recess.