Acting secretary Robert Wilkie tries to sort out the Veterans Choice program mess before congressional funding for the same almost dries up.
In two letters to Congress addressing the funding issue, Wilkie called on the Senate and House committees focusing on Veterans Affairs to provide funding before veterans are left without the services they need. The Veterans Health Administration still lacks the resources to incorporate all veterans presently using the Choice Program.
“With funding for VA’s Choice program set to run out soon, America’s Veterans need Congress to come together to support this crucial program and pass legislation that will make it permanent,” said Wilkie in a press release on the matter. “There is simply no denying how vital community providers are to VA’s mission, as the Choice program accounts for an average of more than 30,000 appointments per day, and allows Veterans to get care when and where they need it.”
Should funding run out, access to quality care in the community will be “dramatically diminished.”
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According to the nearly identical letters to Congress:
Letter To Congress On Veterans Choice
The purpose of this letter is to update you on the status of funding for the Veterans Choice Program (VCP). In my letter, dated April 9, I projected that we would exhaust funding for VCP in approximately the first 2 weeks of June, and this continues to be our best estimate.
In the absence of Congressional action, I plan to submit a letter to the Congressional Committees within the first 2 weeks of May notifying members that we anticipate exhausting all VCP funds within 30 days, and VCP will cease to be a viable program in early to mid-June. The committees have been extremely supportive of the Department of Veterans Affairs in general, and the VCP in particular, and I look forward to working with you and your staff on a solution that will avoid shutting VCP down entirely. I believe we are in agreement that legislation reforming VCP and the Department’s other Community Care programs is our best course of action.
To ensure House and Senate Appropriations and Authorizing Committees are fully apprised of our funding requirements for VCP, Administration representatives have met with the professional staff from all four committees to provide updated funding requirements for both fiscal year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019 resulting from the delay in enacting VCP reforms. VCP requires $1.3 billion in FY 2018 and an additional $2.0 to $3.6 billion (dependent on time of enactment of the CARE legislation) in FY 2019. This is in addition to the $1.9 billion requested in the FY 2019 President’s Budget. To allow time for the development of regulations and to ensure seamless transition to the new program, the Choice Program must continue for 12 months from the passage of the community care legislation. At this point, I believe all parties fully understand the requirements and how they were calculated.
It is the Administration’s preference that VCP be addressed holistically with reform legislation and that all Community Care programs, including VCP, be consolidated and funded via discretionary resources. Continuing to apply funding “band aids” only prolongs the transition to a more efficient and effective program for our Veterans. You have been one of our greatest champions so I know you understand this well. I look forward to working with you to address this important issue.
A similar letter has been sent to the leadership of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees and the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.