Senators Applaud Passage of Legislation to Continue Veterans Choice Program

Legislation unanimously passed by Senate provides critical funding for Veterans Choice Program, now heads to president’s desk to be signed into law

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., along with Senators Angus King, I-Maine, John McCain, R-Ariz., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Luther Strange, R-Ala., today applauded the Senate passage of the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, legislation that authorizes and appropriates funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to continue the Veterans Choice Program and strengthen VA care.

“It is critical that the Veterans Choice Program has the funding to continue offering timely appointments for veterans in their own communities,” said Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “This bicameral, bipartisan agreement is truly a testament to what can be accomplished when Congress works together. I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for their swift action and look forward to the president signing this important legislation into law.”

“Veterans must be able to access high quality health care whether they are going to the VA or to their local doctors,” said Tester, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “By guaranteeing veterans’ continued access to care near home and investing in the VA’s infrastructure and workforce, this bill helps address some of the most pressing obstacles to care. This bipartisan bill shows what happens when Republicans and Democrats work together, and I look forward to seeing the President sign it into law very soon.”

“In rural states like Maine, the Choice Program is critical to supporting veterans who would otherwise have to travel long distances and sometimes wait hours to receive the health care they need,” said King. “The program’s extension, along with the inclusion of leases for new VA facilities around the country – including one in Portland – helps American veterans access the high-quality care they have earned.”

“Congress created the Veterans Choice Program in the wake of the scandal in care at the Phoenix VA and VA hospitals around the country to ensure that veterans who live far from a VA facility or can’t get a timely appointment have access to care in their own communities,” said McCain. “We simply cannot afford to let this program expire and send our veterans back to the status quo of never-ending wait times for appointments and substandard care. The Senate’s passage of this bill to preserve the Veterans Choice Program is an important step forward in ensuring our veterans continue to get the very best care when they need it and in their own communities.”

“I am pleased the Senate unanimously supported critical legislation to appropriate the funds necessary for the Veterans Choice Program to continue offering veterans access to health care closer to home,” said Moran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. “Since Congress created this important program in 2014, I have worked to make certain our veterans in Kansas and across the country benefit from the access to quality and timely health care the Choice network provides. Veterans deserve the best our nation has to offer, and this is a proven program that veterans like and need. I urge the president to quickly sign this bill into law so our nation’s heroes can continue to receive increased access to healthcare in their communities.”

“For millions of Americans who have served, Veterans Administration employees represent the face of our nation’s promise of care,” said Strange. “It is critical that VA facilities stand ready to meet their needs, and that veterans in rural states like Alabama can access the care they deserve from wherever they are. The VA Choice Act implements reviews of agency leadership and provides talented caregivers with ongoing training and development. I am proud to champion this effort to keep the covenant with our nation's heroes.”

The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 was passed 414-0 by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, July 28. After today’s Senate passage, the legislation heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

In addition to providing critical funding to continue the Veterans Choice Program, the legislation also authorizes 28 major medical facility leases and puts in place reforms introduced by Tester, Moran and Strange that strengthen the VA’s ability to recruit, train and retain their workforce.

The 28 major medical facility leases authorized in the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 include Ann Arbor, Mich.; Birmingham, Ala.; Boston, Mass.; Charleston, S.C.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Daytona Beach, Fla.; Denver, Colo.; Fredericksburg, Va.; Gainesville, Fla. (two leases); Hampton Roads, Va.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Missoula, Mont.; Northern Colorado, Colo.; Ocala, Fla.; Oxnard, Calif.; Pike County, Ga.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Maine; Raleigh, N.C.; Rochester, N.Y.; San Diego, Calif.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Lakeland/Tampa, Fla.; Terre Haute, Fla.; and Rapid City, S.D.

###

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 armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.