Trump signs bill extending veterans' private care options

President Donald Trump is seen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington Friday, March 24, 2017, where it was announced the approval of a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, clearing the way for the $8 billion project.

Evan Vucci, AP

President Donald Trump signed into law a bill Wednesday expanding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows some veterans to opt for private care.

The law eliminates the August expiration date of a program born out of the 2014 Department of Veterans Affairs wait time scandal that allows enrolled veterans to see doctors in their communities instead of waiting for a VA appointment. The law also makes the VA the primary payer, rather than the secondary payer, for non-service disabilities claims and allows the VA to share medical information with private medical practices. 

The law allows the program to continue until funding expires, likely next year, buying time for VA Secretary David Shulkin to determine a reform philosophy and strategy for the VA.

“The veterans have poured out their sweat and blood and tears for this country for so long and it’s time that they are recognized and it’s time that we now take care of them and take care of them properly,” the president said as he signed the bill into law in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. 

The president said he will hold a press conference next week to address further plans on veterans’ issues. Mr. Trump has thus far taken a cautious approach to VA reform, despite the sentiment among many conservatives that the VA needs a total overhaul, if not privatization. Mr. Trump’s choice of Shulkin, the VA’s former undersecretary of health, to head the VA was an indication to some Republicans that Mr. Trump did not plan to fundamentally gut and reshape the VA’s structure. Shulkin has made it clear he doesn’t want to privatize the VA. 

Mr. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget boosts VA spending by 6 percent. 

Veterans were key constituency for Mr. Trump in the 2016 presidential election, voting for him 2-1 over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls, and Mr. Trump made veteran care a central component of his 2016 campaign.