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Trump extends private-sector health care program for vets

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Some vets can go to CVS 'MinuteClinics' for minor illnesses

President Donald Trump signed a bill Wednesday to temporarily extend a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector, part of an effort by the president to deliver on a campaign promise. It allows ailing veterans at the Phoenix VA to go to one of 24 "MinuteClinics" operated by CVS for treatment of minor illnesses and injuries.

Veterans Choice was set to expire in August.

"The veterans have poured out their sweat and blood and tears for this country for so long, and it's time that they're recognized, and it's time that we now take care of them, and take care of them properly", said President Trump.

A year ago a congressionally mandated panel of experts found the Choice program was inefficient, but recommended establishing a community-based healthcare system that would include private doctors.

In the statement Monday, Poonam Alaigh, acting VA under secretary for health, said the VA was "focused on process improvements". "By working together we're going to continue this progress".

The Phoenix VA was the site of the 2014 scandal over chronically long wait times for care.

As we work to ensure all veterans have access to care, we must develop an informed, strategic plan for the future of veteran healthcare through the VA. Those groups generally oppose privatization as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.

Trump spent a lot of time advocating for better treatment for veterans during his presidential campaign previous year.

Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done. So why extend a program that, arguably, caused more problems than it solved?

The bigger changes will come this fall, when VA Secretary David Shulkin is expected to unveil a "Choice 2.0" revamp of the program. He said those appointments would have otherwise "lagged" in the VA scheduling system. "I look forward to joining him today as he signs this important bill for our veterans".

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