Warriors and pundits alike gushed over the Veterans Affairs Choice program, allowing veterans to obtain medical care at out-of-network facilities. But since the program was implemented two years ago, military officers and military families have been frustrated by its unclear rules and erratic implementation.
The program permits veterans to travel outside their local network of doctors to receive specialty care, but not to receive general care.
Public frustration with the program boiled over this week when Congress approved $14 billion to roll it back and fund additional military construction projects. On Friday, following weeks of impasse, the Senate voted to fund the plan. But private concerns about the program continued to grow.
“The senator who raised a red flag in the last few weeks was so bitter and tired, he couldn’t see anything positive,” one senior official said of GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, who raised concerns about the program’s ability to cover veterans’ hospital visits.
Senator Tillis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But other Republicans have described their support for the program as consistent, both in public statements and private conversations with lawmakers.
A spokeswoman for Senator Tillis said he “looks forward to seeing how VA implements the new funding” before deciding whether to support the funding. But other Republicans said that they had supported the program as it was implemented, citing the detailed reports submitted to the committees responsible for it as a reason for backing it.
Their opposition to further funding for the program leaves an uncertain fate for veterans who rely on the program. Despite outcries from military advocates and Republican defense hawks in Congress, some Republicans said they were concerned about losing funding for critical military projects, including construction at military bases and new housing for Army families.
“I hope that coming out of this we can work on an acceptable long-term solution,” Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, said on Fox News Friday.
Republicans pushing for a suspension of the program have argued that the more than 5,000 people expected to gain immediate access to the program under the current funding won’t be able to be retained. But some lawmakers have said that even if those veterans are successfully managed through the current funding, they can be re-deployed to states across the country without any additional dollars from Congress.
“The unfortunate part is, we know more about what happened with this program than we know about the rise in ISIS,” Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said of Mr. Tillis’ criticisms.