Isakson Applauds Senate Passage of Legislation to Extend the Veterans Choice Program

Bill ensures continued access to timely, quality health care for veterans

MARIETTA, Ga. – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today applauded the passage of the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act that would extend the Veterans Choice Program and ensure veterans have access to timely care in their own communities.

The Veterans Choice Program is scheduled to expire on Aug. 7, 2017, and currently veterans aren’t able to schedule appointments that fall after that expiration date. The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act would allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to access all of the funding initially appropriated for the program and ensure that veterans’ access to care isn’t disrupted by the looming sunset of the program. The VA expects to have approximately $950 million remaining in the Veterans Choice Program should the program expire in August, and the legislation would allow those funds to continue to be used until they are fully expended.

“I applaud the Senate for taking this critical first step to enhance the Veterans Choice Program,” said Isakson, who is at home in Georgia recovering from two back surgeries. “This extension of the Veterans Choice Program will allow us to focus on improving and consolidating care in the community programs, giving veterans access to the affordable and timely care they deserve. This legislation also removes the financial burdens on veterans by making the VA the primary coordinator of health benefits provided under the program. I am grateful for my colleagues’ support as we continue to put forth legislation to provide the best health care possible to our veterans.”

The legislation would also authorize the VA to be the primary coordinator of benefits under the Veterans Choice Program, reducing veterans’ out-of-pocket costs and aligning the Veterans Choice Program with the VA’s other community care programs.

The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the committee, and John McCain, R-Ariz., and is co-sponsored by Isakson and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Congressman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“As we approach the three year anniversary of the scandal in care that first arose in Phoenix before spreading nationwide, we must continue working to reform the VA and ensure that all veterans have access to timely and quality health care,” said McCain. “The Senate’s passage of our bill today is a critical first step towards ensuring our veterans continue to have access to the care they need in their own communities. To-date, more than a million veterans have made seven million appointments using the Choice Card with local health care providers for everything from diagnostic tests and urology screenings, to life saving heart and cancer treatment. I hope our colleagues in the House will move quickly to pass this bill so that our veterans have continuity and certainty in their health care.”

“Our nation’s veterans deserve access to timely, quality healthcare wherever they call home,” said Moran. “The VA’s failure to implement the Choice Program as Congress intended has resulted in thousands of Kansas veterans still struggling to receive care. This legislation would improve the Choice Program by streamlining the processes between the VA and community providers – reducing the burden on veterans and the providers who serve them.”

###

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.