VA Choice Program May Run Out Of Money By Mid-August

news
AP Images

Lawmakers from both parties admonished Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin at a Senate appropriations hearing on June 21 for dropping a fiscal bombshell: The department has found a $1 billion shortfall that threatens the VA Choice program.


Shulkin says VA may need Congress to sign off on emergency funding to fill the gap and preserve the program, which allows veterans to seek medical care outside the VA, the AP reported.

"We would like to work with you," Shulkin told members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. "We need to do this quickly."

The revelation comes only a few weeks after VA officials projected that Choice was under budget by $1.5 billion. Now, Shulkin projects that money allotted for the program will be gone midway through August.

Several senators asked whether Shulkin could simply cover the expense by taking funds from VA’s new budget, which represents a $4.4 billion increase over previous years.

“The department's stewardship of funds is the real issue at hand,” said Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the VA.

Shulkin, however, blamed the lack of funding on unanticipated demand for the program and suggested that the 2018 budget request might need to be adjusted.

“On financial projections, we have to do better,” he told the committee. “We do not want to see veterans impacted at all by our inability to manage budgets.”

Moran joined three other senators June 21 in writing a letter to the VA supporting emergency funds to cover the Choice shortfall, but admonishing the department for its past missteps:

Unless Congress appropriates emergency funding to continue the Veterans Choice Program, hundreds of thousands of veterans who now rely on the Choice Card will be sent back to a VA that cannot effectively manage or coordinate their care. We cannot send our veterans back to the pre-scandal days in which veterans were subjected to unacceptable wait-times.

However, a representative for the American Legion, one of the nation’s largest veterans service organizations, says the Choice program — enacted by former President Barack Obama in 2014 as a response to excessive wait times — was never meant to be a permanent fixture of VA’s care for vets.

“The Veterans Choice Program expands the availability of medical services for eligible veterans with community providers, and was intended to be a temporary, emergency program in response to the revelation that VA medical centers were unable to serve the veterans in catchment areas who were requesting care,” Joe Plenzler, communications director for the American Legion’s national headquarters, told Task & Purpose.

Plenzler added that the organization supports the termination of the program, saying the American Legion would like to see Congress “rededicate the funding proposed in the 2018 Presidential budget request toward supporting VA’s medical infrastructure and existing community care programs.”

Task & Purpose reached out to Sen. Moran’s office for a comment and will update this story as more information becomes available.

WATCH MORE:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid $13,000 over a three-month period for a senior official's biweekly commute to Washington from his home in California, according to expense reports obtained by ProPublica.

Read More Show Less
Saturday Night Live/screenshot

President Donald Trump said that "retribution" should be "looked into" after this week's opening skit of Saturday Night Live featured Alec Baldwin being mean to him again.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. John Eller conducts pre-flights check on his C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 3 prior to taking off from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a local area training mission. Sgt. Eller is a loadmaster from the 535th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

CUCUTA, Colombia — The Trump administration ratcheted up pressure Saturday on beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, dispatching U.S. military planes filled with humanitarian aid to this city on the Venezuelan border.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

Read More Show Less
A pair of U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat aircraft from Fighter Squadron VF-211 Fighting Checkmates in flight over Iraq in 2003/Department of Defense

Since the sequel to the 1986 action flick (and wildly successful Navy recruitment tool) Top Gun, was announced, there's been a lot of speculation on what Top Gun: Maverick will be about when it premieres in June 2020. While the plot is still relatively unclear, we know Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Naval aviator Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, and he'll be joined by a recognizable costar: The iconic F-14 Tomcat.

It looks like the old war plane will be coming out of retirement for more than just a cameo. A number of recently surfaced photos show an F-14 Tomcat aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, alongside Cruise and members of the film's production crew, the Drive's Tyler Rogoway first reported earlier this week.

Read More Show Less