(UPI) — President Donald Trump signed a large spending bill Saturday aimed at reforming the Veterans Healthcare Administration, fulfilling a central promise from his campaign.
The bill, VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, received broad support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress on it way to Trump’s desk. In all, it allocated $3.9 billion in spending. The largest chunk, $2.1 billion, will be used to expand a program to ensure care for veterans who live in rural areas, far from VA hospitals or clinics. The remaining $1.8 billion will go toward hiring more staff, improving existing VA facilities and opening 28 new VA clinics across the country.
At a bill-signing ceremony broadcast live on the White House Facebook page from Trump’s golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., the president said the legislation would help improve care for the nation’s military veterans.
“This bill will ensure that veterans continue to have the ability to see a doctor of their choice, so important, and don’t have to wait or travel long distances for care,” Trump said.
During the campaign, Trump pushed a plan that would allow veterans who do not live close to a VA hospital to get care from a private medical provider and have their expenses reimbursed through Medicare. The funding will provide a major boost an existing a provision known as the Veterans Choice Program.
Trump praised Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, calling him a “star” in his administration. He also said the legislation would make it easier for the federal government to fire VA employees. The proposals came in the wake of the VA healthcare scandal under the Obama administration, where several hospitals across the country, most notably in Phoenix, were papering over months-long wait times for veterans seeking care. In several instances, veterans died before they were able to receive medical treatment at the facilities.
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