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President Trump signs bill to expand veterans private care

President Donald Trump has signed a bill into law that will expand private care for veterans as an alternative to the troubled Veterans Affairs health system.

The measure, which passed both chambers of Congress last month with overwhelming bipartisan support, delivers on a key campaign promise for Trump, who pledged to provide veterans with more non-VA health care choices.

"What a beautiful word that is — choice — and freedom to our amazing veterans," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "All during the campaign I'd go out and say, 'why can't they just go see a doctor instead of standing in line for weeks and weeks and weeks?' Now they can go see a doctor."

Working out the details of exactly how and when that will happen is now up to agency officials tasked with drawing up regulations under the law.

Known as the VA MISSION Act, the law directs the VA to combine a number of existing private-care programs, including the so-called Choice program, which was created in 2014 after veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA.

The law also creates a commission to recommend which VA facilities are worth repairing, where new ones should be built, and which ones should be closed and care provided in the private sector instead.

The measure includes some incentives to help the VA hire more health care providers. It allows the agency to provide scholarships to medical students in exchange for their pledging to work at VA. Currently some 33,000 positions are unfilled at the agency.

In addition, the law provides pre-9/11 veterans with benefits to help cover the cost of in-home care-givers. Such benefits previously were provided only to post-9/11 veterans.

The VA also will be allowed to set up pilot programs under the law to test how to deliver better care more efficiently, including with public-private partnerships.

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