Memorial Day Passes Without Trump Signing Landmark VA Bill

With Congress in recess, the White House on Tuesday had yet to set a date for signing the landmark bill to overhaul how the Department of Veterans Affairs manages and delivers health care for the nation's veterans.

The VA Mission Act would replace the current VA Choice program for private and community care, which acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said could run out of funding as early as May 31. Other officials have put the deadline at sometime in June.

The new bill, with overall costs estimated at $55 billion over five years, would provide $5.2 billion in funding to keep the Choice program operating for one year while the system is overhauled to consolidate seven existing community and private-care options into one program.

The VA Mission Act passed the Senate last Wednesday by a vote of 92-5. Trump had pledged to sign it quickly as a major achievement for his administration.

There was initial speculation in Congress that the signing ceremony would take place on Memorial Day, but the White House in a statement Sunday said only that the bill would become law "in the coming days."

Memorial Day is an occasion for solemn remembrance, the White House statement said, but "it is also a moment to consider how we can make life better for all of America's heroes in uniform, including our veterans. In the coming days, President Trump will take an important step toward correcting how the United States treats its veteran population."

The statement said the new bill "will transform the [VA] into a high-performing and integrated health care system for the 21st century. It accomplishes this goal by putting patient choice at the core of the VA program."

Major veterans service organizations supported the bill, although they initially expressed concerns that too much reliance on patient choice would lead to the "privatization" of the VA.

The five senators who voted against the bill were Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota; and Bob Corker, R-Tennessee.

In a statement last week, Sanders said, "I acknowledge the work done by some of my colleagues to improve this bill, but I believe it moves us too far in the direction of privatization."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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