- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2017

President Trump on Saturday signed a bill that will pump funds into the Veterans choice program to keep it up and running, while Washington continues to fight over how best to give veterans the care they earned — but which the government has sometimes failed to deliver.

Approved in the wake of the wait-list scandal that saw hundreds of veterans die while stuck on secret wait lists, the choice program allows those caught in backlogs to seek care at from a private clinic or doctor and bill the costs back to the Veterans Affairs Department.

Mr. Trump signed the new legislation while on a working vacation at his golf club in New Jersey.

“Today is another milestone in our work to transform the VA, where we’re doing record-setting business,” Mr. Trump said, calling the bill another campaign promise he’s accomplished.

The choice program needed an immediate infusion of cash to carry it through into the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

But the broader debate over how to provide care to the growing number of veterans remains.

President Obama was compelled to sign the choice program amid the reports of veterans at a VA clinic in Phoenix dying while stuck on a wait list.

Subsequent inspector general’s investigations confirmed that supervisors in some clinics across the country were denying veterans speedy care, sometimes using secret wait lists so they could hide the problems and collect performance bonuses.

The care program was designed to let veterans who’d waited weeks for an appointment or who lived far from a VA clinic to seek care at a private facility, with the costs covered by taxpayers.

Democrats have been reluctant about the program, saying they fear the care program is the first step toward introducing more private options outside of the VA’s network of clinics.

But Republicans said it shouldn’t matter where the care comes from, just that veterans get what they have earned.

The legislation Mr. Trump signed Saturday also authorizes leases for more than two dozen VA medical facilities and is supposed to improve the department’s ability to recruit and train needed workers.

The VA said some 15 million private care appointments have been authorized under the choice program so far this year.

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