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The House Rejects VA Choice Program Funding
The House did not move forward with a proposal to fill the $2 billion budget shortfall in VA Choice. The $10 billion program was put in place in 2014 to cut back on wait times and deliver services to the most remote veteran populations. Demand for the program has increased over 50 percent since the beginning of 2017, with over 8 million community care appointments booked through VA Choice. The high use of this program has caused the budget to diminish quicker than expected and without Congressional support, it is at risk of going away.
Although this measure made it through the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), Monday night the House failed to gain the two-thirds support it needed to approve this solution to the VA Choice Program budget shortfall. House Democrats and VSO’s that did not support this legislation offered no solutions to fixing the shortfall other than expanding the budget in 2018 to cover costs.
Those who did not support the bill feared it was an effort to privatize VA Healthcare and stated that the money is needed elsewhere within the VA. This budget shortfall did not come out of nowhere, these groups previously blocked Secretary Shulkin’s plan to take from the Individual Unemployability (IU) program. They knew the end of Choice was close, but have been tone deaf to the demand signal of veterans wanting and using this program at a higher rate than the VA and lawmakers anticipated.
The VA has recently made it a strategic goal to reduce veteran suicide, and delivering community care is a pivotal part of this strategy. Veterans’ access care when and where they need it most, and mental health isn’t the only service being provided at the community level. Many veterans seek out community organizations for physical care as well. Those who rejected the proposed budget fix should know that the best services are delivered at the community level, and by expanding the budget for VA Choice the VA is listening to its customer’s demands and reacting to them.
According to VA data from 2014, there are approximately 22 million veterans, 12 million of which are eligible for VA care, 9 million are enrolled, and 6 million use the care. These legacy groups are hanging on to the archaic notion that all veterans are receiving care, or want to receive care, from the VA when data would tell us the opposite. While VA Choice is not perfect, it offers veterans other options for seeking care.
The groups who oppose this program should listen to the entire population they serve, and not just their members who represent a minority of the 22 million veterans in this country. These groups could come together with the VA and lawmaker to make VA Choice a stronger program that better serves those who served us. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn said it best when he stated, “we've learned that when you're going to tackle some of these big things, you've got to build the coalition, you've got to bring in the stakeholders.”
Expanding an already increased VA budget is not a responsible way to serve our veterans, who are also the taxpayers funding it. With the amount of overlap in government services, we should be able to come to a consensus on where this money can come from but veteran special interest groups in D.C. would rather see Choice fail than make a compromise. To no fault of its own, the VA is failing veterans in the most remote areas of the country and blocking this legislation is hurting the VA’s plan to better serve our nation’s veterans.
Read our January policy recommendations that highlight VA Choice and other ways to advance military-to-civilian transition.
Cleland is the Manager of Research and Policy for the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute where he specializes in employment transition as well as collective impact in the military/veteran space. Prior to joining the Military Service Initiative, Cleland was the Director of Innovation and Operations for the Community Engagement & Innovation team at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). He developed and managed initiatives in support of establishing, executing, and maintaining oversight of collective impact projects under the technical oversight of the Community Engagement team (AmericaServes).
Cleland was an Infantry Machine Gunner (0331) assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Fox Company, and was retired from the United States Marine Corps in July 2008 due to injuries sustained while fighting in the surrounding towns of Fallujah, Iraq. Upon retirement, Cleland returned home to pursue his education at Syracuse University. He currently resides in his hometown of Camillus, NY with his wife Kimberly, son Colton, daughter Charlotte, and dogs Benelli and Nova. He holds a B.A. in Policy Studies (Public Affairs) with a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in Creative Collaboration and Conflict Resolution.Full Bio
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