President Trump signed a sweeping new law Wednesday to expand veterans’ access to private health care, calling it “one more crucial step in fulfilling our duty” to veterans.
On the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Mr. Trump gathered with veterans, lawmakers and other officials in the White House Rose Garden to sign the $50 billion VA Mission Act. The president said no veteran who serves their country “should have to fight for their lives when they come home” just to obtain quality medical care.
“They must never be denied the access they need,” he said.
The law authorizes new health care programs for veterans, including a consolidation and overhaul of separate and sometimes competing outside care programs. The measure had overwhelming bipartisan support, approved by votes of 92-5 in the Senate and 340-70 in the House.
The law directs the VA to combine several private-care programs, including the so-called Choice program, which was created in 2014 after a scandal involving veterans who died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix, Arizona, VA facility.
It’s expected to take another year before a new single program is up and running.
Appropriations are not settled for the legislation, with the White House seeking funds from cuts elsewhere in the budget.
In a statement issued eight hours after he signed the bill, Mr. Trump asserted some executive authority over the new law. He objected to a provision requiring the VA to obtain congressional approval before spending more than $50 million on certain pilot programs, saying he would treat the requirement as “advisory.” But he said he would still heed a congressional directive requiring the VA secretary to notify Congress before exceeding the spending cap.
The president also said he won’t treat as mandatory a requirement to consult Congress on the appointment of members to an asset and infrastructure review commission. He said he will likely consult wth Congress on the commission, but requiring him to do so would violate the separation of powers because it’s an executive decision.
Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, criticized the president for opposing new funding for the measure.
“We do our veterans no favors by promising care without backing it up with resources, and the administration saying that providing new funding to care for our veterans is ‘anathema to responsible spending’ is shameful,” Mr. Leahy said. “Signing a bill and then opposing the resources to fund it is no different than writing a rubber check. If the bill the president is signing is important to veterans … then it needs to be funded to make it real.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, Tennessee Republican, said the legislation is “moving toward a veteran-centric health care system that marries the best of VA with the best of the private sector so veterans can finally have timely access to the quality care they have earned.”
“Implementing these major reforms will require vigorous oversight to ensure VA has the tools it needs to continue working to change the way the department cares for the men and women who have borne the battle,” Mr. Roe said.
Among those attending the ceremony in the Rose Garden were Robert Wilkie, the president’s new nominee for secretary of the VA, and Elizabeth Dole, a former Transportation Secretary and wife of retired Sen. Bob Dole, a World War II veteran who is a relentless advocate for veterans.
Noting the D-Day anniversary, the president said the veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy against Nazi forces in World War II sacrificed everything “to strike a lasting victory for freedom.”
“They put everything on the line for us,” he said. “When they come home, we must do everything we can possibly do for them.”
Mr. Trump said the measure fulfills a campaign promise to get veterans speedier care with private doctors.
During the campaign, the president said, he would ask, “Why can’t they just go see a doctor?”
“Now they can go see a doctor,” he said. “This is truly a historic moment, a historic time for our country.”