Shulkin and other veterans’ groups cautioned that attempts by officials and lawmakers to expand and/or make permanent a program allowing veterans to seek the care of private doctors and facilities outside the VA system could siphon funding from the VA and lead to worsening service.
The Veterans Choice Program was put in place by Congress in 2014, when the VA was failing veterans. Hundreds of them were waiting months for treatment — while VA officials altered documents to hide it — and dozens died while waiting.
The Choice Program allowed veterans who waited more than 30 days for care or who lived more than 40 miles from a VA facility to seek care, paid for by the federal government, from private providers. The lawmakers who voted for the program believed it to be temporary while the ailing VA system underwent a major overhaul.
Johnson City Rep. Phil Roe, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has said in the past that the Choice Program is not an attempt to privatize the VA.
Last year, Shulkin himself backed a program called the Veterans Coordinated Access Rewarding Experience, under which veterans could choose to seek care outside the VA system without the wait-time or geographical restrictions of the Choice Program.
He said the competition would force the VA to improve its quality of care and efficiency, giving veterans better care all around.
Critical lawmakers have pointed out that proposed increases to the VA budget were more heavily weighted toward private sector care than in-house care.
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