Yesterday, the President signed Senate Bill 544 into law. It extended and amended the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. Otherwise, the controversial Veterans Choice (Card) Program would have expired in August, although $1 billion of the original $10 billion remained in the account and the number of veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system using private care, under VA direction, had risen from approximately 10 to 33 percent. Essentially, the bill was a no-brain’er, as no doubt the good senator from Montana, Jon Tester (D), would himself admit. It was not a remarkable feat on the part of the Congress or the President — or the VA.
What might be remarkable is the upcoming but unspecified proposal of Secretary Shulkin for evolving the VA healthcare system in the face of modern-day realities, including the shortages of medical professionals nationally and the wide and less concentrated dispersal of the current military veteran population. The time has come to silence those who lobby for the privatization of the Veterans Health Administration’s healthcare system, for their proposals have ignored the present inadequacies of American healthcare, and are blind to the desires of most veterans who have access to the VA system. We are hopeful that the continuance of the Veterans Choice program, despite its past problems, is part of a larger work in progress. We are also hopeful for a solution which mimics the one used by the Department of Defense in its TRICARE program — it does not endanger the military hospital network concept, an invaluable, national resource but does recognizes their inherent limitations — for in the end, the VA hospital healthcare system is too valuable a resource to lose.
Incidentally, this “Veterans Choice Improvement Act” addressed a major complaint of veterans service organizations. It directed the VA to cover co-pays and deductibles directly for private care, rather than reimbursing veterans. Another instance of a sign of things to come?
As of 20 April 2017