The House voted Friday to give the Department of Veterans Affairs another $2.1 billion to fund the Veterans Choice Program, which lets veterans seek medical care outside the VA in certain cases.
The vote came four days after a similar bill was rejected in a 219-186 vote. While that's a majority, Republicans called up the bill under a procedure that required a two-thirds majority vote, and all but two Democrats opposed the bill in that vote.
The bill that passed Friday in a 414-0 vote is different from the bill that failed Monday. For example, it provides $2.1 billion for the Choice program instead of $2 billion.
The bill was also changed to reflect discussions between the two parties on what it would take to win the support of Democrats. For example, it includes language that requires the VA to conduct annual performance reviews for political appointees and creates a new training program for VA officials.
Elsewhere, it encourages the VA to hire students and recent graduates and authorizes $1.8 billion worth of medical facility leases for VA clinics around the country.
The bill called up Monday drew opposition from many veterans service organizations who oppose the Veterans Choice Program, and see it as a threat to the VA. But it was praised by Concerned Veterans for America, which has championed the choice program as a way to more effectively help veterans.
CVA executive director Mark Lucas supported the move to keep the Choice Program funded, but said the final bill was "far from perfect."
"[C]oupling this choice funding with new leases for medical centers is a mistake without a more thorough review of the VA's capital asset needs," he said. "Some of these leases may very well be needed, but authorizing them at this time could lead to wasted resources that could otherwise be used to better serve veterans."
CVA also preferred an idea offered by the VA itself in June — that Congress not give the VA new funding, and instead authorize the VA to move money around in order to keep the Choice Program funded.
But while the VA proposed that in June, Congress never acted on that plan, and instead moved to appropriate new funding this week.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill by next week, and CVA and other supporters of the Choice Program are hoping the money gives Congress time to design a new, longer-term program. The Choice Program was only designed to last for three years.
"The Choice Program isn't perfect, but until Congress passes permanent reforms, it absolutely needs to stay afloat," CVA policy director Dan Caldwell said.