BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Aug 12, 2017, 4:04 PM ET

Trump signs bill to fund veterans medical care program

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President Donald Trump has signed an emergency spending bill that will pump more than $2 billion into a program that allows veterans to receive private medical care at government expense.

Trump, who made improving veterans care a central campaign promise, signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act while at his New Jersey golf club on Saturday. The bill, which addresses a budget shortfall at the Department of Veteran Affairs that threatened medical care for thousands of veterans, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek private care.

Another $1.8 billion will go to core VA health programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities.

"Today is another milestone in our work to transform the VA where we're doing record-setting business," Trump said.

The Choice program was put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal that was discovered at the Phoenix VA hospital and spread throughout the country. Veterans waited weeks or months for appointments while phony records covered up the lengthy waits.

The program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait at least 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, the Choice program would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care for thousands of veterans.

The bill will extend the program for six months. Costs will be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.

Veterans groups applauded the bill being signed, though some criticized the delay and the cost.

"We're grateful President Trump is taking decisive action to ensure veterans using the Choice Program won't see lapses in their care due to a lack of funding," said Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans for America. "Unfortunately, this bill took far too long to get to the president's desk and is $1.8 billion more expensive than it needed to be."

Leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the VA's future. While the bill may avert a shutdown to Choice, disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors.

Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014. The VA has an annual budget of about $180 billion.

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  • myvoicecounts

    Just because you qualify for Veterans Benefits DOES NOT mean you will be granted Medicare/Medicaid! They are two separate systems, one funded my the VA and the other funded by Social Security. Social security is getting harder and harder to work with BECAUSE they don't want to pay benefits and certainly not to younger people! I know of a Vet who was deafened in Iraq who was turned down because he could use "devices" to help him work. (Who is going to hire him?) Another Vet who was on the MH ward with PTSD so bad he ACTUALLY SLEPT under his hospital and was getting EST twice a week. Turned down for "lack of proof" he actually "had" this condition. A Vet amputee who was told he could "still use his hands" to perform work. On and on. The public needs to be aware that Vets ARE NOT getting hired despite Govt reports to the contrary.
    Companies are worried about anger issues. Sad. Social Security will not automatically take the word of the VA saying a SM is unable to work and it is a nightmare getting through to them. Why do you think so many Vets are homeless?

  • rick moss

    FINALLY Trump does something right by continuing to fund the veterans program. I just wish he hadn't done it at the expense of those veterans who had, or would have had, medicaid benefits.

  • myvoicecounts

    Indeed he does. But my beef with this lastest deal is that this is a LIE! Veterans Choice is NOT new! It isn't just something signed into being now, today. It is in existence and is a total debacle. That's not bi-partisan or political. It;s lying to the American public.

  • cephalopod

    I received the best healthcare and respect from doctors at VA facilities. They are on the cutting edge of medicine. The doctors and staff are overworked. That being said, show some respect for the Commander in Chief. He has to deal with red tape too.

  • GorillaMyDreams

    Finally, something I can agree with Trump about. But where are the people crying "socialism" over this government-run healthcare?

  • Bernard Adelsberger

    Absolutely shameful that you invite Scaramucci to talk about WH and Trump. Naked grab for ratings, vs. enlightening your audience.

  • ohyes2011

    From what I read ..this was bipartisan? If yes. Why not say so?

  • Ira Cohen

    Hmm, 6 months...what happens after that? As always, keep your eye on the ball and see what the long term solution is..may not be so pretty, but this makes Trump a hero for about a minute.

  • bugs

    Remember when trump chased vets away from Trump Tower?

  • Curmudgathrope

    Like to know why this was removed...???
    I think I would like to see 2 things passed as unchangeable without 75%
    of a stand alone vote in House and senate. 1) All line items for VA Care
    must be either stand-alone items or contain more than a single VA Care
    only item as additions. No making a VA Care item contingent on voting
    for a $500 Million deep water project in Oklahoma where that No Vote
    kills a perfectly good VA Care idea. The second would be that VA Care
    items are across the board apply to 50 States and Territories, and all.
    Absolutely no reference to any particular state and what they can or can
    not do, they ALL do it together. Just begin with an even playing field,
    where every single Yes or No vote is easy to find and harder to weasel
    out of why a particular vote was cast. Let's start with making it
    simpler, not add layers of 'legislator protective' layers of
    uncertainty. Let's know exactly where every one of them stand or fall in
    front of us.

  • MRB26

    Don't stop there. If any American deserves free and unlimited healthcare it would be a veteran in my opinion.
    Much effort is put into making them killing machines; we owe them their lives back to the extent we can do that for them. There should be a boot camp for healing, recovery and deprogramming after war.

  • Rubbed Sage

    Noisy, short term reprieve for the program. But don't get comfortable. When the GOP screws the vets, and they will, it will be quietly.

  • Derek Etter

    So basically this "6 month" reprieve is saying to us Vets is "Do you want healthcare or a home?" Seriously?!? I don't know why the politicians increase the worth of everything? Also, why is the government banning narcotic pain meds for those who need it, because of a 2% that abuse take them with other street drugs and die?? That's just a culling if the heard!!

  • Samuel Ryan

    So we veterans are learning the real plans of the party you have given power to. I have never had the VA not offer private care if the wait is to long or there is an urgent need for care. That being said i have always told them i will wait for any needed care if it can be received at a VA facility. You are watching the GOP create a giant funnel from the taxpayers pocket to GOP connected healthcare providers. I figure it will take them about 10 years to a note on our bill saying here is a 5% discount on your bill, thanks for you service.

  • Obozo Hussein

    Obama does not like this

  • SpartacusII

    diversion. russia.....IMPEACH

  • rachel441

    So is doing "record setting business" at a VA hospital a good thing or no?

  • Irish Jew

    Thanks, veterans, for your service. You deserve more than we give.

  • kritikosman

    Good for vets, hopefully; Trump still SUCKS tho!

  • MikeMaloney

    Don't be fooled by this. This is the first salvo in the attempt to privatize VA Health Care. My local VA clinic is doing a great job for me, but it would be nice if the chicken hawks in DC would fully fund the VA so they can hire more nurses and Drs.

  • Colinalcarz

    Along with ailments that might affect anyone, veterans, especially combat veterans, experience additional health issues such as PTSD, exposure to toxic chemicals, and injuries from enemy fire or IED's etc. Their care is best provided by physicians and professionals with particular experience in these types of things. However, veterans can't be expected to live near a VA hospital, and if the nearest one is overwhelmed, backlogged, or understaffed, our veterans should be able to cite such concerns and present themselves at any medical facility in the country and get the care they need. I wonder if the private contracting firms that profit from US wars are contributing their share to the funding of medical care for personnel from the military who work for them.

  • myvoicecounts

    Lookout America. Trump is telling the PUBLIC that he is doing things for Vets, but BEHIND the scenes he is doing things much differently. Why take money from the pensioners? They retired from the military. My brother did 25 years and can't get burial insurance from the VA. Vets pay a co for medication and there is talk about charging them to see VA doctors. Service connected VA disability was good up until a couple of years ago. Now they use the same standard as Social Security. (Blind? You can still use your legs...) Not every Vet is eligible for care. If you are above a certain income limit forget using the Va regardless. They have cut employment slots for doctors, so it takes years to hire a new one, That leaves clinics grossly understaffed and the vets wait months to get in. Dental care is not open to anyone other than 100% Service connected vets. Teeth will be pulled if infected but forget regular dental care or prevention. On and on.
    I have been a Trump supporter but I too am seeing that he is a liar. This is not right to mislead the public like this. Vet Choice is not new or just done today. Read my previous posts-I am going away to calm down. Washington is the reason I am in anger management?

  • Jeff W

    Transferring money from other VA programs is ridiculous!
    How about transferring money from the many lazy people, living on welfare, just to lazy to get a job, or the illegals in states like California, that get tax money for housing, food, everything for free, living the American dream, while doing nothing to earn it!

  • thee1truth

    The price of being brainwashed by the Government.

  • Harry Pooter

    So, in other words, trump got up there and crowed about signing a bill that simply temporarily exntends an existing Obama era program...got it

  • Goblin Shark

    I see they had a quote from the Concerned Veterans For America, but didn't ABC attempt to reach out to any legitimate Veterans' advocacy groups?

  • aarfc

    I think I will wait to hear from my friends that are veterans. To date Donny's track rate has been abysmal.

  • Primo Veritas

    Wow. Well, I'm glad for such good news. But how come we haven't heard about this bill before now? Overshadowed by the Russian investigation and North Korea? How come Trump hasn't been presenting this as an achievement instead of touting other healthcare that favors the top 1% and gives insurance executives tax breaks?

  • Bud Simpson

    OK, first I'd like some outside confirmation that there ever was a bill, second I'd like confirmation that what he signed wasn't just some paper that was meaningless, third is there some confirmation that Congress sent a bill for his signature?

  • pfon71361

    The nation owes a great deal to our veterans who, in the majority, served selflessly and with honor. So when they require medical care we would be heartless to deny them all possible assistance in their time of need. They are the best of us and deserve our best when they are needing our help.

  • Former Earthling

    Same program Obama created and funded in 2014. Ok.