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Blumenthal Applauds Unanimous Senate Passage of Bill to Address Veterans Choice Program Funding Shortfall

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, applauded unanimous Senate approval of legislation to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program. The measure allocates $2.1 billion for the Choice Program, which subsidizes non-VA medical care for individuals who experience long wait-times for VA appointments or travel long distances to VA medical facilities.

“This commonsense measure keeps our promise to veterans by ensuring that they have access to timely and high-quality healthcare in their communities. Our veterans deserve the flexibility that will be afforded by the continuation of the Veterans Choice Program, but I will continue to champion further reform to ensure that we continue to improve VA healthcare and enhance access to VA medical facilities,” Blumenthal said.

“I am particularly concerned by recent findings that the lack of health information sharing between VA and non-VA providers puts veterans receiving chronic pain treatment at high risk for medication interaction and potential overdose. We cannot allow the Veterans Choice Program to exacerbate the opioid epidemic among our veterans, and VA must close the information gap on opioid prescription through improved Opioid Safety Initiative guidelines and enhanced state prescription drug monitoring programs.”

In addition to appropriating funding for the Veterans Choice Program, this legislation includes two workforce provisions Blumenthal negotiated last Congress as Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The first would enhance accountability on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by requiring annual performance plans be submitted by VA political appointees, similar to the appraisal process of VA career executives. The second provision establishes a promotional track for VA technical experts that bypasses managerial roles, allowing VA to retain needed, high-performance employees in technical roles.

The bill also authorizes 28 leases for major VA medical facilities, totaling over $274 million, and includes provisions to boost VA's recruitment and retention efforts