In the wake of the disturbing news of neglect and maltreatment at VA hospitals last year, Congress responded in part by passing the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, legislation that enables veteran patients to qualify for care at non-VA health care if they have been unable to schedule an appointment at a VA hospital or reside a difficult journey from such a facility. The legislation passed the House 265-160, passed the Senate 93-3, and was signed into law by President Obama on August 7th of last year. AMAC was proud to support this legislation and we were glad that at a time when so much in Washington is defined by partisanship and gridlock, both parties could come together so effectively to support a commonsense measure that helps ensure that America’s veterans receive the care that they need.
This is why it is so distressing to see that President Obama’s budget, at the recommendation of his new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, is proposing to cut part of the $10 billion in funding for the new Choice Card program. While McDonald said that the cut “wasn’t meant to be controversial,” it risks compromising the health security of our nation’s veterans and has stirred significant opposition from leaders of both parties in Congress. Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee has rightly denounced a reallocation of the Choice Card funds as a “non-starter.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a veteran himself, remarked that it is “totally unacceptable that the administration would attempt to subvert the will of Congress and deny veterans the health care choices they’ve earned and deserve.” New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R) have written a joint letter to the President opposing his proposed cuts and have jointly introduced legislation to make the Choice Card program permanent.
A new poll from Concerned Veterans for America shows that nearly nine out of ten veterans believe officials need to increase health care choices for VA patients, including access to private care physicians. More choice was both the intent and the effect of the Choice Card program. Since November 1st, over 8 million cards have been issued. Veterans are taking advantage of this program and are depending on it. For the President to consider compromising this effective and popular program, over vocal objections from leaders in both parties, suggests that he is out of touch with the needs of veterans. AMAC will continue to monitor this situation and hopes that President Obama will relent on this proposal. We are grateful for the leadership of New Hampshire Senators Shaheen (D) and Ayotte (R) in defending the Choice Card program and applaud their legislative efforts to make it permanent. AMAC is proud to represent a large number of veterans among our 1.2 million members. We owe it to our members and to our nation to provide those who risked their lives to defend our freedom.