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At left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
At left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. (Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., introduced complementary legislation in the House and Senate on Tuesday to do away with an expiration date on the $10 billion Veterans Choice Program.

The program, which is set to expire in August, was initiated after the 2014 wait-time scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs in an effort to get veterans quicker access to health care. It allows veterans to receive health care from private doctors when they can’t get a timely appointment at a VA facility, or if they live more than 40 miles from one.

When Congress passed the Choice Act in 2014, they appropriated $10 billion for the program. McCain said about $1 billion could remain by August.

“It simply makes no sense to let the Veterans Choice Program expire when more than $1 billion in allocated funding could still be available for this program in August,” McCain said in a written statement. “We cannot afford to send our veterans back to the pre-scandal days of unending wait-times for appointments and poor care at the VA.”

According to department data, approximately 30 percent of all appointments scheduled in fiscal 2016 were made with providers outside of the VA.

The bills, introduced late Tuesday, would strike part of the law that terminates the program three years after it began. The program would be allowed to continue until it runs out of funding.

McCain will continue to fight to make the program permanent, he said.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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