President Donald Trump signed a bill Wednesday to temporarily extend a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector, part of an effort by the president to deliver on a campaign promise.
Some veterans have criticized the Choice Program for being complex and confusing, and while many congressmen and veterans groups applauded Trump's signing of the bill, they did so with the caveat that the program improves.
"VA is taking immediate action to review the National Caregiver Support Program to ensure we honor our commitment to enhance the health and well-being of veterans", said Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in a statement. Under the bill, the VA will be allowed to operate its Choice program until the funding runs out.
Extension of the "Veterans Choice" program could worry Democrats and other critics that Trump and Shulkin are inching toward sending some of the $65.6 billion the department spends annually on medical care to corporations and private businesses.
President Obama signed the Veterans Choice program into law in August of 2014.
"Using funds that have already been appropriated for this program, this gives our nation's heroes the peace of mind they deserve while this administration works with Congress to enact comprehensive reform and modernization at the VA", White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.
The Choice Program is a start, but the CVA is eager for more "permanent solutions". Many vets complained it made getting that care more of a hassle.
Trump pledged to hold a news conference next week on "all of the tremendous things that are happening at the VA and what we've done in terms of progress and achievement". This represents millions of appointments that would have otherwise lagged in the VA's scheduling system for everything from routine check-ups and diagnostic tests to life saving heart and cancer treatment. He said more work is needed, but called the legislation "an important first step". Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.