The House voted down on July 23 a proposal that would have extended funding of the Veterans’ Choice program for six months. The final tally was 219-186 in favor of the measure, short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.
Under the Choice program, veterans can take advantage of community-based providers for health care in which they are entitled, when such services are unavailable through VA facilities. The advocacy groups largely support the options Choice affords to veterans who otherwise would not get treatment, but not if it means gutting existing VA services.
Veterans’ advocacy groups had joined forces to voice their disapproval of the plan, which would have diverted money from existing Department of Veterans Affairs programs to fund Choice.
The plan, and a similar one in the Senate, would have provided $2 billion to keep Choice going. Without it, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said, the program is in serious jeopardy. Roe also blamed House Democrats for falling short on a deal they presumably had made, which would have ensured the measure’s passage.
Approval would have resolved “our most pressing issue and [prevented] yet another access crisis like the one that led to the creation of Choice three years ago,” Roe said in a statement.
Roe also cited testimony Dr. Poonam Alaigh, VA’s acting Undersecretary for Health, provided during a June hearing. Alaigh said at the time that failure to approve the funding plan would be a “disaster for veterans,” and place VA in similar straits that it was in before the scheduling scandal at the department’s Phoenix facility became public in 2014.
Despite Alaigh’s warning, the plan was placed in jeopardy when the veterans’ groups — AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), jointly voiced disapproval.
“We oppose legislation that includes funding only for the Choice program, which provides additional community care options, but makes no investment in VA and uses ‘savings’ from other veterans benefits to ‘pay’ for the Choice program,” the organizations said in a joint statement issued before the vote. “If new funding is directed only or primarily to private-sector Choice care without any adequate investment to modernize VA, the viability of the entire system will soon be in danger,” the organizations stated.