VA Secretary David Shulkin outlined his aim Sunday to remove the 40-mile, 30-day rule for veterans accessing private sector care outside the VA system.
Among other proposals, Shulkin unveiled his plan to dramatically increase the ability of veterans to get care outside of the VA at the Disabled American Veterans annual conference, which is ironic, as DAV has been one of the groups most consistently opposed to the VA Choice Program.
In Shulkin’s first address since taking over the reins of the department, he stated he wants to transform the existing choice program into “Choice 2.0.,” Stars and Stripes reports.
Such a proposal is an indication that the Trump administration is serious about bringing the VA closer to privatization — without privatizing the entire department. In December, a Trump transition team official said that the administration was considering allowing some veterans to bypass the VA system and receive care solely from the private sector.
Major veterans groups have repeatedly stated their opposition to expanding the choice program and moving towards privatization.
Currently, under the choice program, veterans must either wait 30 days for an appointment or live more than 30 miles away from the nearest VA facility.
Shulkin slammed the existing program as overly complex and bureaucratic, but said the expiry date should be removed, in order for his plan about moving overly burdensome rules to be actualized.
GOP Sen. John McCain and Rep. Phil Roe introduced legislation in the Senate and House to eliminate the expiry date, but so far the bills haven’t gained much traction.
The choice program was first implemented following revelations of manipulated wait times and veterans languishing and dying on secret wait lists at the Phoenix VA.
The conservative-leaning veterans advocacy Concerned Veterans for America noted that the choice program, while somewhat of an improvement, still suffers from poor implementation.
“The Choice Card program, which was intended to be a stopgap passed in response to the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal, is imperfect and was implemented poorly,” Concerned Veterans for America policy director Dan Caldwell said in a statement. “We agree with Secretary Shulkin that Congress should reauthorize the Choice Program in August, but only as a temporary measure while better methods for offering veterans choice are developed.”