President Donald Trump on Wednesday moved a step closer to fulfilling his campaign promise to reform the troubled Veterans Affairs department. President signed a law extending the pilot “Veterans Choice” program, which allows some veterans to receive healthcare from local doctors and hospitals closer to their homes than the VA’s 150 hospitals and nearly 1,000 outpatient clinics. The law eases procedures for reimbursing private providers and creates a system for sharing medical records with them.
“I’ve been telling all of our friends at speeches and rallies for two years about the VA, how we’re going to turn it around, and we’re doing that,” the president said.
Veterans have “not been taken care of properly” and that the program will continue to be able to see “the doctor of their choice.”
“You got it? The doctor of their choice,” he repeated for emphasis.
“This new law is a good start, but there is still much work to do,” Trump said at a signing ceremony attended by VA Secretary David Shulkin and Florida Governor Rick Scott. “We will fight each and every day to deliver the long-awaited reforms our veterans deserve.”
The Veterans Choice Improvement Act removes barriers that Congress placed around the original “choice” initiative and eliminates an expiration date that would have shuttered the program in August.
Lawmakers created the choice program in 2014 after a massive scandal involving wait time cover-ups at more than 100 VA facilities around the country. It was initially structured as a two-year pilot program that limited when and where veterans could choose to see private doctors. Patients could only use the choice program if they lived more than 40 miles from the nearest VA hospital or if they could not get an appointment from their local VA facility within 30 days.
The program was created in 2014 after the VA attempted to cover up a wait-time scandal that occurred at more than 100 Veteran Affairs facilities.
If Trump had not signed the bill, the program would have expired in August.