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Veterans Affairs bill should be backed up by funding

| Wednesday, June 13, 2018, 8:53 p.m.
President Trump, flanked by members of Congress and veterans, holds up the Veterans Affairs Mission Act he signed during a June 6 ceremony at the White House.
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President Trump, flanked by members of Congress and veterans, holds up the Veterans Affairs Mission Act he signed during a June 6 ceremony at the White House.

We support the bill President Trump signed into law June 6 that allows veterans to more easily seek medical care from outside the Veterans Affairs system.

But the devil is in the details, and there are a few that stand out as potentially troubling. (Spoiler alert: It involves money.)

The measure builds on legislation passed in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments.

The law loosens Choice's restrictions that limit outside care to only when a veteran must wait 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Veterans also can seek private care when the treatment was not what they had expected.

Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector.

The law also expands a VA caregivers program to cover families of veterans of all eras.

The changes are projected to cost $51 billion.

Now comes the rub.

According to The Associated Press, some lawmakers warn this could put the VA at risk of budget shortfalls next year.

A bipartisan group of senators wants to add money to cover the VA private care program.

But the AP says the White House has been quietly working to block that plan, calling it an “anathema to responsible spending.” Warning of “virtually unlimited increases” in veterans care spending, the Trump administration argues that the private care program's added costs should be paid for by cutting other VA spending.

The VA secretary will have wide leeway in implementing the legislation based in part on available money.

While veterans groups cheered the legislation as a major step toward improving veterans care, some have cautioned against “cannibalizing” VA programs to pay for Choice, saying more funding is needed.

That's our fear, too. What good is it to offer a better situation in this instance but then take away some other, yet to be determined, program or benefit?

Congress showed no such restraint when passing its most recent budget in the spring. Military spending is the highest ever.

There were no concerns regarding fiscal restraint then, when budgeting to send soldiers to defend their country; now, all of a sudden, the budget for treating for their care afterward is an issue?

Doesn't that merely seem like an extension of the problem for caring for America's 9 million veterans that the new law is intended to address?

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