Sen. John McCain is demanding a full accounting from the Department of Veterans Affairs on the financial status of its private-sector health care program after the agency said it could face another budget shortfall as soon as December.
The Associated Press reported this week that the VA had acknowledged its Veterans Choice program could run out of money by year’s end despite receiving $2.1 billion in emergency funding just last month. Another shortfall could forcethe VA to limit referrals to outside doctors, causing delays in medical care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.
In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wants to know specifically when the VA expects Choice to run out of money. McCain cites AP’s report, which included a statement from VA that Choice funds could be depleted as early as December or as late as March.
The letter, sent late Wednesday, calls for a VA response by the end of the week.
The Arizona Republican noted that Congress was led astray earlier this year after VA provided false assurances that Choice funds would last until early 2018. After Shulkin admitted to a budget shortfall in June, McCain joined other senators to express concern to VA about possible financial mismanagement.
Congress ultimately approved $2.1 billion in emergency spending for Choice that was intended to last until February.
“We said at the time that it was essential, given the growing demand for care under the Choice program, that the VA immediately correct the failures that created such a serious shortfall,” McCain wrote. “It appears as if you have not done so.”
In its statement earlier this week to AP, the VA said it hoped to move quickly on a proposed long-term legislative fix that would give veterans even wider access to private doctors. The proposal, under review by the White House budget office, would seek money to keep Choice running for much of next year as VA implements wider changes.
Earlier this year, the VA began limiting referrals to outside doctors as money started running low.
The Choice program was passed by Congress in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center that spread nationwide. Some veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees manipulated records to hide delays. The controversy spurred Congress to establish Choice as a pilot program to relieve pressure at VA hospitals.
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