Congress Extends Program Allowing Veterans to Receive Care at Non-VA Hospitals But Fails to Tackle Long-Term Needs

President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill extending a program allowing veterans to receive health care from non-VA hospitals.  

The Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act, S. 544, would extend the Veterans Choice Program from its sunset date of August 7, 2017 to operate until all of the money in the program’s fund is expended.   

AFGE cautiously applauds the bipartisan effort to help veterans. The program was created under a 2014 law, which was born out of necessity and intended as a temporary means of expanding access while the VA addressed staffing shortages, outdated scheduling systems, and other issues. The Choice Program has encountered numerous problems since its inception, leaving many veterans to fall through the cracks, wait longer, face bill collectors, and suffer from the adverse impact of less specialized, in-house, integrated VA care.   

“Anytime lawmakers work together to improve the care of our nation’s veterans, we stand in support of them,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “The Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act will address some short term problems associated with the use of non-VA care. However, this law does not address the increasingly serious, broader need to overhaul non-VA care programs and restore VA control to ensure a strong VA that uses appropriate non-VA care. This is a good attempt at a stopgap measure, but further expansion of Choice could lead to wholesale privatization of the largest medical system in our country.”   

VA Hospitals Outperform Private Hospitals, Again 

Indeed, a new study done by researchers from Northwestern University found that VA hospitals outperform non-VA hospitals on most quality measures. This confirms  results of previous studies conducted by various organizations over the years. Upon hearing of the findings of the Northwestern study, VA Acting Under Secretary for Health Poonam Alaigh sent out a departmentwide email congratulating the employees for a job well done.  

“These findings are a testament to VA’s intense focus on quality improvement and care coordination over the past 30 years. Our patients benefit from receiving their health care in a highly integrated system with a single electronic health record,” Alaigh said. “Achievements like these would not be possible without your commitment to excellence in serving Veterans. Thank you for all you do every day to ensure our Veterans receive the high-quality health care they have earned and deserve.” 

Cox said all veterans deserve world-class health care and medical treatments for their sacrifice, and the VA is the only system in the world that can offer all of that and more to our veterans. It is not just another hospital system, but a community of veterans that brings together generations of servicemen and women from all wars, with all injuries, and all walks of life. Veterans do not want to see it go away. Privatization will leave veterans in the cold and will have far-reaching consequences on the VA.  

“Eighty percent of veterans have said they want a fully-funded health care system, and not vouchers,” Cox said. “We have heard from numerous veterans seeking care that the Choice system is broken. We’ve also heard from VA staff – one-third of whom are veterans – that Choice must not be expanded.”   

AFGE will continue to stand with veterans’ service organizations and their members to defend those who have borne the battle against special interest groups who will profit from the privatization of the VA.


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