Veterans in the CNMI and others who are living in remote areas would continue getting medical care in their respective places after President Donald Trump extended the Veterans Choice Program.
Trump signed the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act on Wednesday, April 19, extending the program that gives all veterans the choice to be treated locally rather than traveling to another country or state.
The program was about to end on Aug. 7 this year but was extended to Jan. 31, 2018. Veterans residing in the CNMI would continue to see their private doctors in the Commonwealth after the program’s extension.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) said the administration of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs would pay the private healthcare provider of the veterans who are under the program.
“Veterans will no longer be responsible for paying the private provider. The new law makes the Veterans Administration the primary payer. The Act also makes record-sharing between the VA and outside doctors easier,” said Sablan.
“The Veterans Choice Program has already expanded access to care for veterans. Now, the extension gives Congress time to work on more ways to allow veterans to get the help they need outside of the VA system.”
He added that the Veterans Affairs Committee at the House of Representatives, where he is among the 10 members from the minority, would continue to work in order to improve more programs and choices for all veterans.
The Senate passed the bill—co-authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas)—on April 3 and the House two days after.
The House passed the bill with amendments, including a provision that makes the VA the primary medical care payer in a private health clinic or outside the VA clinic.
Sablan said the committee also allowed care for non-service connected conditions and the VA to share the health records of veterans with outside care providers, unless the veteran objects.
The VA was expecting an estimated $950 million to be left when it was supposed to expire this year. The bill would allow the VA to use the remaining funds for the program even after August 2017 or when it is all spent.
Trump, during the campaign, has promised to help improve the condition of veterans, including overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs and to finally address other issues.