President signs bill to help veterans, Tester main sponsor
- Author: Joey Payne Apr 21, 2017,
Apr 21, 2017, 3:10
U.S. President Donald Trump smiles after signing S.544, the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act, at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 19, 2017.
Trump signed a law extending the pilot "Veterans Choice" program, which allows some veterans to receive healthcare from local doctors and hospitals closer to their homes than the VA's 150 hospitals and almost 1,000 outpatient clinics.
"This new law is a good start, but there is still much work to do", Trump said at a signing ceremony attended by VA Secretary David Shulkin and Florida Governor Rick Scott. "You got it, the doctor of their choice and don't have to wait and travel long distances for V-A care".
Shulkin has said that he will present to Congress this fall proposals to overhaul the Choice program to give veterans more options for private care and better integrate the VA with the private sector.
"This bill will extend and improve the Veterans Choice Program so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice, " Trump said.
The new law also calls for changes to alleviate some problems by speeding up VA payments and promoting greater sharing of medical records.
Flanked by veterans at an Oval Office ceremony, the president signed the bill to extend the Choice program, which was to expire on August 7, and allow the expenditure of the remaining $950 million in the program.
Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to give veterans freedom to seek care "at a private service provider of their own choice".
Congress established the Choice Program with $10 billion following the VA's 2014 wait-time scandal in order to get veterans quicker access to care.
Reforming the agency, rocked by a waiting-time scandal in 2014, was one of Trump's most-repeated campaign trail promises.
"Moving forward, I will continue to work with veterans and my colleagues to reform the Choice Program so it works on the ground in Montana". At the same time, he wants the VA to work in partnership by handling all the scheduling and "customer service", something that congressional auditors say could be unwieldy and expensive.