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American veterans would have greater freedom to see doctors outside the Veterans Affairs health system under legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
By a vote of 347-70 Wednesday, the House supported the bill to give veterans access to more non-VA doctors if the veterans felt the VA wouldn't provide satisfactory care.
However, in many cases the VA itself would decide when a veteran would be able to see an outside doctor, the Associated Press reported.
The $51 billion legislation would prevent closure of the VA's Choice private sector program, which would otherwise run out of funding as early as May 31, the wire service said. Currently, about a third of VA appointments are with private doctors.
The bill aims to alleviate even more demand on the VA system by steering more vets to the private sector, including walk-in clinics.
The bill has the support of organizations including the The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the wire service said. But it is opposed by some lawmakers who fear it would lead to steep budget cuts at VA hospitals and ultimately, privatization of the VA system. The legislation includes plans to create a presidential commission to review closure of underperforming VA facilities.
In 2014, controversy erupted at a VA facility in Phoenix, when some vets died while waiting months to see a doctor, the AP reported. Similar problems subsequently were uncovered at other VA institutions around the nation.
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