President Donald Trump [official profile] signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act [text, PDF] on Saturday that will allocate $2.1 billion in government funds to the Veterans Choice Fund, and an additional $1.8 billion [LA Times report] to core VA health programs and medical facility leases. Trump signed the bill in response to the budget shortfall in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [official website], which threatened healthcare for thousands of veterans. Additionally, the bill also addresses staff shortages in veterans health administration, lack of proper training and experience in the administration and delivery of healthcare, accountability of political appointees placed in charge of managing the VA, hiring of VA medical center directors, competitive salary packages of physician assistants, re-employment of former VA employees, promotional opportunities for VA technical experts, and employment of students and recent graduates, among other things. While veterans groups welcomed the bill, they also criticized the delay stating: “Unfortunately, this bill took far too long to get to the president’s desk and is $1.8 billion more expensive than it needed to be.” The bill was approved unanimously by both houses of Congress [official website] before it was presented to the president.
The VA has been heavily criticized for its inability to provide adequate medical care to veterans, despite efforts from the Obama administration to improve the claim review process. In March 2015, former president Barack Obama [official website] announced [JURIST report] the creation of a new advisory committee to improve conditions in the VA. The committee was to consist of business leaders, members of veteran organizations and health science professionals with a diverse range of experience. In February 2015, Obama signed [JURIST report] the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act [text, PDF] into law in order to combat increasing suicide rates among American veterans suffering form PTSD. The act was passed by a unanimous Congress and is intended to facilitate veterans’ access to mental health resources, as studies have shown that suicide rates are higher among those who do not receive any type of mental health care. In August 2014, Obama signed [JURIST report] the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act [text, PDF] to allow veterans to seek private care outside of VA facilities and provide money for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses.