VA Choice and Quality Employment Act passed both houses unanimously


SALEM, Va. (WSET) -- The Veterans' Administration is a signature away from receiving $3.9 billion to help with wait times at medical centers nationwide.

Vietnam Veteran David Lofgren knows his way around the Salem VA, saying "I have gotten cancer treatment at the VA related to my service in Vietnam, the Agent Orange exposure."

He says, he couldn't have asked for better doctors. "I felt I got really good care there."

In 2014 the VA came under scrutiny for its wait times, but Lofgren says says that isn't an issue locally. "I haven't had any problems getting appointments. I have used the choice program."

According to the most recent release, almost 93 percent of people who go to a VA falling under the Salem Medical Center are seen within 30 days.

World War II Veteran Jim Warren says he has friends who go to the VA in Salem. He said "They're been superior. It's been a real good place and I have several friends out there now that are getting immaculate care."

And things could get even better.

Tuesday, Congress unanimously passed Montana Senator Jon Tester's VA Choice and Quality Employment Act. It continues the VA Choice program, for another 6 months. The Choice program helps people in rural areas, but allowing people who live more than 40 miles from a VA clinic to see any doctor who accepts Medicare or Tricare.

It also gives 1.8 billion dollars to new leases for clinics and also helping to fill vacancies- which could then cut down on wait time. There will be 28 new leases, including two in Virginia.

In a statement, Senator Mark Warner says he is happy the bill passed. "The Veterans Choice Program was meant to reduce wait times and give veterans a broader range of options to access quality health care in their communities. The legislation the Senate approved last night, which now heads to the President's desk for his signature, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Choice program for six months. It also provides $1.8 billion to address longstanding staffing needs at V-A hospitals, including Hampton VAMC," said the senior senator.

The President still needs to sign this bill, but with both houses of Congress passing it unanimously, lawmakers have said they are confident it will get support from the White House.

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