Vote Preserves Veterans’ Program, for Now

In Healthcare On

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers reached a deal late Thursday to stave off a painful shutdown of the multibillion-dollar Choice Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the dayslong standoff over how to do so exposed fissures that could hinder efforts to craft a permanent solution.

The program, which pays for veterans to see a private doctor if they are facing long waits or travel times, was set to run out of money by mid-August, earlier than lawmakers initially expected. Now, after several days of tense negotiations, the House and Senate are both expected to pass bipartisan legislation that would infuse $2.1 billion in new funding for Choice over six months, as well as more than $1.4 billion hiring, work force improvements and the authorization of 28 leases that increase the department’s internal capacity to deliver care.

The measure passed the House 414 to 0 on Friday, just as lawmakers were about to begin their summer recess. The Senate, which is in session for two more weeks, is expected to pass the measure in short order and send it to the president’s desk.

The agreement was seen as a victory for a group of influential veterans organizations that teamed up with Democrats to defeat an earlier plan, advanced by House Republicans, that they said advanced private care at the expense of the department’s in-house offerings. The groups — and Democrats — have generally advocated simultaneous investment in both the private care program and the department itself.

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