VA Choice Program could run out of funds by end of year

El Paso VA_(CBS4/KFOX14)

The Department of Veterans' Affairs said its private health care program, better known as the Choice Program, could run out of funds as early as December.

President Donald Trump funneled and extra $2.1 billion into the three-year-old program back in August of this year.

U.S. Navy submarine service veteran David Pacheco has been on the program for a year and half. For him, it’s not easy to hear this vital tool for veterans is in financial strains.

"It's disappointing because, for me as a veteran, it's allowing me to choose which doctor I can go to on the outside or even stay at the VA," Pacheco said.

Pacheco has used the Choice Program to get procedures for his cataracts. Without it, his eyes maybe in trouble.

"I'd have to wait at the VA for about four or five months just to get it rescheduled again. It's a simple procedure,” Pacheco said. “Here we have plenty of local hospitals and fine hospitals here that veterans can choose from and that elevates the burden on the VA."

The VA issued the following statement:

Virtually everyone agrees that VA’s many community care programs – including Choice – need to be combined into a single, modern, consolidated community care program that is easy to understand, simple to administer, and meets the needs of Veterans and their families, community providers, and VA staff. VA is working with Congress and veterans service organizations on a legislative proposal that would accomplish this goal as soon as possible.
The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, which was signed into law in August, authorized $2.1 billion in additional funds for the Veterans Choice Program. Our current estimate for exhaustion of these funds is between December 2017 and March 2018.
While Pacheco is all for the program, some veterans like Bob Reil aren't exactly on board.

"It doesn't matter. It does not work because even if people use their choice cards the doctors overbill the work they did,” Reil said.

Others have mixed feelings about the program.

"It makes me feel pretty bad that they are going to run out of funding. But, the choice program isn't working out too well,” Benjamin DiMaggio, a local veteran, said.

"The doctors never send in the prescriptions we need. We're old soldiers,” DiMaggio said. “We all served our time and we need prescriptions to keep us going."

Pacheco hopes something can be done for him and other veterans who use the program.

"I would encourage both Democrats and Republicans to get together and find a solution because this is a program that helps our veterans; those us who have gone out there and served,” Pacheco said.

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