VA private-doctor referrals are in trouble due to dwindling funds

Military veterans who have seen private doctors for their health needs might no longer be able to do so due to recent cutbacks in the Veterans Administration's Veterans Choice Program.
By Leon Clarke | Jul 21, 2017
Military veterans who have seen private doctors for their health needs might no longer be able to do so due to recent cutbacks in the Veterans Administration's Veterans Choice Program. The program, which lets veterans opt to see private doctors if VA hospital services are not available for them, is running out of money.
"There are no more referrals," said Nancy Brown, a Marine Corps veteran, told the Washington Times after her plan stopped allowing her to see a private doctor for her ailing knee. "They're denying it now, telling people they can't see you. What are veterans to do?"
The VA created Veterans Choice in 2014, in the wake of revelations that numerous veterans had been forced to wait weeks or months for necessary medical care and that some had died during the wait. The program's demand soared to higher than expected, so much so that it is forecast to have depleted all of its funds by mid-August, VA Secretary David Shulkin told lawmakers last month.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee held discussions Tuesday of this week on how to save the program. Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tennessee) plans to introduce a bill next week to extend its funding for six more months by allocating it some extra funds and trimming expenses elsewhere in the VA budget to offset them.
In the meantime, the VA is telling its medical centers to limit the number of veterans it refers out to private doctors. It is making some veterans instead go to other VA facilities much farther away from their homes or to Defense Department hospitals.
President Trump has proposed increasing Veterans Choice funding by $2.9 billion in the next fiscal year to meet its rising demand. Shulkin wants to expand its funding, as well.

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