Trump signs bill to fund veterans medical care program

President Donald Trump gestures as he is seen reflected in a ballroom mirror while speaking regarding the on going situation in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 in Bedminister, N.J. Standing behind Trump are military veterans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville, Va., at Trump National Golf Club, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — 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.

Must Read

TV executive predicts 500-show bubble destined to deflate

Aug 9, 2016

Television viewers know there's a mind-boggling array of shows to attempt to watch, but FX Networks chief executive John Landgraf predicts that change is coming

Turkish, Russian officials to discuss solution for Syria

Aug 10, 2016

Turkey's foreign minister says Turkish foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials will travel to Russia for discussions on finding a solution to the Syria conflict

Beyond 'Obamacare': State initiatives refocus health debate

Aug 9, 2016

Political activists are looking to state ballot questions to move beyond "Obamacare" and refocus the nation's long-running debate over government's role in health care

People also read these

4 months after Japan earthquake, final victim may be found

Aug 10, 2016

Nearly four months later, the final victim of two deadly earthquakes in southern Japan may have been found

Criticism of lavish funeral for Anne of Romania

Aug 10, 2016

The presidents of Romania and Moldova pay their last respects to Anne of Romania at a 19th-century royal castle amid some criticism about the grand royal funeral

Zambia voting for president amid unprecedented violence

Aug 10, 2016

Zambia, former 'model for Africa,' votes for president amid striking political violence

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather
+7

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather
+27

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather
+6

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather
+9

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather
+7

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH