Friday, May 04, 2018

VA's struggling program to help rural veterans avoid long trips and long waits runs out of money in June

A struggling program designed to help veterans face shorter wait times will run out of money within the first two weeks of June, according to a recent letter to lawmakers from acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie. The Veterans Choice program "has come under criticism since it was established four years ago in the wake of VA’s national wait time scandal, where administrators were found doctoring appointment schedules to cover up problems with delayed medical care for veterans," Leo Shane reports for Army Times.

Even after the VA changed the program to pay for visits to private health-care providers if patients live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have been on a waiting list for more than 30 days, veterans faced long waits. Lawmakers have approved multi-billion-dollar funding extensions to the program twice in the last nine months while trying to figure out a better solution. "Department officials said they need another $1.3 billion to extend the program until this fall, and up to $3.6 billion more to keep it running through fiscal 2019," Shane reports.

Even if an improved program is approved soon, VA administrators say they'll need a year to transition veterans to the new program. The transition time required is one reason for Wilkie's urgency; his letter said that "We cannot wait any longer."

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