Last-minute Veterans Choice funding bill filled with key VA hiring flexibilities

An additional $2 billion for the Veterans Choice Program isn’t the only provision lawmakers rushed to pass before leaving Friday for the August recess.

Under the House Veterans Affairs Committee leadership, lawmakers managed to find a solution that replenishes the Veterans Choice Fund with an additional $2.1 billion dollars and invests in key VA functions.

But the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act also includes some significant provisions designed to help the department more quickly hire medical center professionals, retain high-quality senior executives and accurately track a growing number of vacancies.

In addition, it authorizes leases for 28 major medical facilities, a long-awaited action that the department has asked Congress to take for years.

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House lawmakers were on an incredibly tight deadline to find a way to continue the Choice program before the money runs dry in the next two to three weeks. An attempt that only appropriated additional Choice funding failed during a 219-186 vote on Monday after veterans service organizations called for a solution that included a concrete plan to invest more resources into VA and the department’s own modernization.

The Senate must pass the bill before Aug. 15, the date that VA told Congress that the program’s funds would run dry.

The legislation buys members of Congress about six months more to redesign the Choice Program. VA Secretary David Shulkin has already offered a glimpse of his own vision to change the program.

Shulkin praised House lawmakers after it was apparent they came to agreement on new Choice legislation.

“This will allow VA to bring new facilities closer to where Veterans live, and those facilities will bring increased convenience and access to VA health care,” he said Thursday of the House agreement.


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