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Sen. John McCain calls on Veterans Affairs to address budget shortfall

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. listens to a reporter's question before a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to correct its failures that have potentially caused another budget shortfall for the private-sector Veterans Choice health care program.

In a letter addressed to Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin on Wednesday, McCain referenced an Associated Press report that said the health care program may need additional funding as early as December to “avoid a disruption of care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.”

McCain wrote to Shulkin to clarify whether the VA is facing a “third funding shortfall” for the program this year alone and if funding for the program will “remain available, as you have testified, well into next fiscal year.”

McCain also referenced Shulkin’s Senate testimony from earlier this year, which prompted Congress to allow the remaining $1.1 billion in Choice funding to be applied to the health care program, and McCain’s letter about his serious concerns of financial mismanagement at the VA.

“We said at the time that it was essential, given the growing demand for care under the Choice program, that the VA immediately correct the failures that created such a serious shortfall. It appears as if you have not done so,” part of the statement read.

The VA said in a statement that it could not say for certain when Choice funds would be depleted, but acknowledged that it could be as early as December or as late as March.

According to the Associated Press, the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement that it hoped to move quickly on a proposed long-term legislative fix that would give veterans even wider access to private doctors.

The proposal, under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would seek money to keep Veterans Choice running for much of next year as VA implements wider changes.

But the House Veterans Affairs Committee was already anticipating that the emergency funding approved in August may not last the full six months, citing the VA’s past problems in estimating the program’s cost.

VA struggles to address high veteran suicide rate

The funding problem for the VA’s private health care sector is not the only issue the department has gone through recently: Government data released last week found suicide among military veterans is especially high in the western U.S. and rural areas.

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) held a bipartisan discussion on Wednesday to raise awareness of veteran suicide. Sinema, in a tweet, said that Congressional efforts to end veteran suicide “do not end today. We are committed to ensuring our vets always know they always have a place to turn.”

 The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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