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Veterans balk at Hill proposal to offer ‘choice’ health care

Several leading veterans’ groups are voicing opposition to House legislation scheduled for a vote Monday that would shift $ 2 billion from some veterans’ programs to fill a budget shortfall in a “choice” health care plan that allows veterans to see a private doctor.

The groups, representing 21 million veterans, said the legislation is “unacceptable” because it would divert tax dollars from Department of Veterans Affairs programs without addressing other critical problems in the VA system.

“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 or services to ‘pay’ for the ‘choice’ program,” the groups said.

The statement was signed by AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, the Military Officers Association of America, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs released the proposal on Friday, and Republican leaders have scheduled a vote by the full House for Monday night. To offset spending, the VA would trim pensions for some veterans who are in nursing homes covered by Medicaid and collect fees for housing loans.

Lawmakers and the VA are trying to find a solution to a funding shortfall in the “Veterans Choice” program, which allows veterans to seek a private doctor if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility or if they can’t get an appointment in the VA system within 30 days. The legislation would extend that program for six months.

The popular program was created as a response to a scandal in 2014 in the VA system over delayed care and veterans who died waiting for appointments. But the “choice” program is due to run out of money in mid-August, and the VA already has been cutting back on private care options for veterans in the meantime.

The VA has an annual budget of about $ 167 billion.

The veterans’ groups opposed to the legislation said Congress should beef up both the “choice” program and other services for veterans instead of shifting money around within the VA budget.

“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 groups said.

Another veterans’ group that favors privatizing more veterans’ services, Concerned Veterans for America, has endorsed the legislation.

CVA policy director Dan Caldwell called the House measure “a practical solution that will address the problem quickly and in a fiscally responsible manner.”

“This plan will ensure that the veterans who have been able to successfully use the choice program will not face any lapses in care due to the program running out of money in the coming weeks,” Mr. Caldwell said. “We urge Congress to reject straw man arguments from defenders of the status quo who are using this moment to advance their anti-choice agenda instead of doing what’s best for veterans. There is no reason to tie fixing the Veteran Choice Program to other unnecessary spending increases, especially considering that a VA appropriations bill, with a nearly $ 2 billion dollar budget, is already in the works.”

Still another group, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, chose not to take a position on the legislation. It said tradeoffs in VA budgeting are nothing new.

“Paralyzed Veterans’ main concern is that using these offsets to pay for VA health care comes at the expense of expanding nonhealth care benefits, such as disability compensation,” said executive director Sherman Gillums Jr. “However, we are not prepared to simply oppose offsets because we believe VA is open to strengthening health care for our most catastrophically disabled veterans, which matters above all else.”

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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