A new poll from Concerned Veterans for America shows strong support for health care options outside of Veterans Affairs Department facilities, despite a new announcement from VA officials about plans to cut back on those programs.
About 88 percent of respondents to the poll — part of a larger health care survey from the conservative veterans' advocacy group — said officials need to increase health care choices for VA patients, including access to private care physicians.
About 95 percent said veterans should be entitled to the best care possible, regardless of the provider.
The 1,000-person survey was conducted by the conservative Tarrance Group with an error margin of 3.5 percent. CVA officials said the results are a clear indication that plans to trim private care options for veterans are a mistake.
"Veterans overwhelmingly favor VA reform and want more health care choice," group CEO Pete Hegseth said in a statement. "Unfortunately, President Obama and the VA remain wildly out of touch with these wishes."
As part of the department's nearly $169 billion fiscal 2016 budget request released Monday, White House officials said they will submit legislation to shift money from the Veterans Choice Program "to support essential investments in VA system priorities in a fiscally responsible, budget-neutral manner."
Last summer, Congress created the "choice card" program with a goal of providing quicker and more convenient appointments to veterans, after tens of thousands of vets nationwide were found to be waiting more than a month for medical visits and physician consults.
Lawmakers authorized $15 billion in funding for two years of the program, with $5 billion for physician hiring and the rest to establish a temporary program to make it easier for veterans to seek private, non-VA health care.
On Monday, VA Assistant Secretary for Management Helen Tierney said officials have not seen strong interest in the program, and have heard from numerous veterans who wish to remain in VA care. But she could not provide specifics on program use or how much money might be shifted out of the program.
About 8.5 million choice cards have been issued to veterans, who are eligible if they live in rural areas or face more than a month's wait for medical appointments.
Both House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., criticized the move and said they would not support any such funding shift.
CVA officials said they will release more details from the nationwide poll at their health care reform summit on Feb. 26.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.