The sunshine state was well represented at the White House Wednesday as President Trump signed a bill extending and improving the Veterans Choice Act which allows veterans to seek medical care outside the VA system under certain conditions.
The Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act allows veterans to visit private doctors at private hospitals.
Scott and Sutphin then met privately with VA Secretary David Shulkin after the ceremony.
"This bill will extend and improve the Veterans Choice Program so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice, " Trump said.
The new bill - the Veterans Choice Improvement Act - addressed a major complaint of veterans service organizations by directing the VA to cover co-pays and deductibles directly for private care rather than reimbursing veterans for paying up front. "This law will take critical steps to begin to fix the Choice Program so it works for veterans and community providers across Montana".
"The legislation that Trump signed ‶eliminates the August 2017 expiration, streamlines the process between the VA and community providers, and reduces the burden on veterans and the community providers who serve them", said Republican Kansas Sen. The program allows veterans to seek care in the private sector if they have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles driving distance from a VA facility.
Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done.
Congress established the Choice Program with $10 billion following the VA's 2014 wait-time scandal in order to get veterans quicker access to care.
A year ago a congressionally mandated panel of experts found the Choice program was inefficient, but recommended establishing a community-based healthcare system that would include private doctors. "We will fight each and every day to deliver the long-awaited reforms our veterans deserve, and to protect those who have so courageously protected each and every one of us". At the same time, he wants the VA to work in partnership by handling all the scheduling and "customer service", something that congressional auditors say could be unwieldy and expensive.