President Trump has signed a bill passed by Congress extending the current Veterans Choice Program which allows vets to access private care. The bill, S. 544, authorizes the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to use the remaining $950 million Congress allocated to providing veterans private care in their communities when they are not able to access medical treatment at VA health care facilities. 

To help ease the backlog at VA health facilities, Congress established the Choice Card program in 2014, which allows vets to get medical care from a private doctor or clinic if the vet lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility or has been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment. The original program was scheduled to “sunset” on August 7 of this year. 

Although generally lauded as a step in the right direction, some veterans have criticized the Choice program. While VA facility may be within 40 miles of a veteran’s home it may not offer the specific service that vet needs, they say. Furthermore, the 40 miles are “as the crow flies” but the actual distance by road may be much longer. For these reasons the VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, has said Congress still needs to revise the program before the end of the year. As reported by the website military.com, Shulkin said, "We need to make sure the Choice program not only continues, but it works better for veterans. And we know it hasn't worked the way we wanted it to work. It's too complex; it's too hard to use. So we are working hard now with Congress to redesign a better, improved way of accessing care in the community. Shulkin said he is asking Congress for authority to give veterans more choice for private care in cases where the VA is falling short ‘or isn't doing as well.’ The goal would be to give veterans ‘the best of what the VA offers, the best of what the private sector offers,’ he said…The proposed "Choice 2.0" plan could include elimination of the wait time and distance rules in the current program, along with new procedures for scheduling appointments and repaying private-sector physicians.”

Shulkin is also reported to be eager to overhaul the disability claims process and will be looking to Congress pass much-needed legislation.

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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