Some veterans organizations don’t think a bill President Donald Trump signed Wednesday expanding private care options for veterans goes far enough.
Trump seemed to agree, which is why he said more announcements are coming next week regarding veteran care.
“There is still much work to do. We will fight each and every day to deliver the long-awaited reforms our veterans deserve and to protect those who have so courageously protected each and every one of us,” Trump said in the Roosevelt Room Wednesday after signing the Veterans Choice Program Extension Act.
The bill allows veterans to get private health care treatment outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system, but it will still be paid for by the VA.
Trump said he and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin will announce more steps to improve veterans’ health care at a press conference on April 27. The press conference, highlighting one of his key issues, comes near Trump’s 100-day mark since taking office.
“We’re going to have a news conference with David and some others to tell you about all of the tremendous things that are happening at the VA, what we’ve done in terms of progress and achievement,” Trump said.
Trump made improving health care for veterans a major theme during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump’s signing extends a law that was about to sunset, put in place as an emergency response to the VA waiting list scandal that first came to light in 2013, when veterans were often denied care, and in some cases even died.
“The veterans have poured out their sweat and blood and tears for this country for so long and it’s time that they are recognized and it’s time that we now take care of them and take care of them properly,” Trump said.
Trump noted the legislation allows veterans to see “the doctor of their choice” without being required to travel a long distanced to receive care.
“It’s not going to happen anymore,” Trump said.
This is only a good first step, said Mark Lucas, the executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, who attended the signing ceremony.
“The Choice Program was passed as a quick fix to the wait list manipulation scandal that broke three years ago, and while it’s helped, too many veterans still are forced to seek care at failing VA facilities,” Lucas said in a public statement. “Congress now has some time to work with Secretary Shulkin on broader, more permanent choice reforms that will truly put the veteran at the center of their health care and remove VA bureaucrats as the middlemen.”
The Choice Program was initially created by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. It provided the VA an additional $10 billion in emergency funding to expand veterans’ access to care, but came with a three-year sunset clause. That meant the VA had to either use or lose the $1 billion remaining.
The new bill that Trump signed into law on Wednesday addressed some issues that veteran groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars had expressed concerns about. The new law eliminates the secondary payer requirement, clarifying that VA is the payer of care, not veterans. It also makes it easier to share medical documentation with Choice Program providers, so veterans don’t have to face unnecessary delays when scheduling appointments.
Though more announcements are coming at next week’s press conference, the VA secretary didn’t want to minimize the new law.
“This is a good day for veterans,” Shulkin said at the Roosevelt Room signing ceremony. “This is a great day to celebrate not only what veterans have contributed to this country but how we are making things better for them, and by working together, we’re going to continue this progress.”
Also, attending the event were Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., as well as Florida Gov. Rick Scott and House Veterans Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn. (For more from the author of “Trump to Announce ‘Tremendous Things’ for Veterans Health Care” please click HERE)