Fact Check: Did President Trump Pass the VA Choice Act, as He Says?

In his final days in office, President Donald Trump made several speeches highlighting the achievements of his presidency. Trump gave a final speech at Joint Base Andrews after leaving the White House for the final time Wednesday morning prior to the inauguration.

The Claim

During a taped farewell address Tuesday, Trump boasted his accomplishments in health care and claimed credit for the passage of the VA Choice Act.

"We passed VA Choice, VA Accountability, Right to Try, and landmark criminal justice reform," Trump said.

On Wednesday, he added, "We took care of the vets, 91 percent approval rating. They've never had that before the vets have given us the VA. The vets have given us an approval rating like it has never been before. We took care of our vets and our beautiful vets, they were very badly treated before we came along. And as you know, we get them great service and we pick up the bill and they can go out and they can see a doctor if they have to wait long periods of time."

The Facts

The VA Choice Act, or the Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act, was passed in 2014 under President Barack Obama.

According to The Hill, the bipartisan bill expanded the number of options veterans have for receiving care and granted the United States Secretary of Veteran Affairs more power to fire executives. It included "choice cards" for veterans to see non-VA providers if they could not get appointments with the agency within 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a clinic and added nearly $500 million for hiring additional nurses and doctors. Senators Bernie Sanders and John McCain were the main architects of the legislation.

The bill came after the major VA scandal in which VA staff had been instructed to falsify their waiting lists to cover up lone wait times for basic care. The issue was especially prevalent at the VA medical center in Phoenix, where veterans waited 115 days on average for an initial primary care appointment, according to an interim independent report by the VA's inspector general at the time.

In June 2018, Trump signed the Mission Act, which made it easier for veterans to seek private care. This was an update of the VA Choice Act and consolidated the existing health care programs under the Veteran Affairs Department into one central program. This measure expanded the eligibility requirements for private care based on certain criteria so that veterans are able to seek a non-VA doctor if their VA wait is 20 days, if they live 30 minutes away from the nearest VA facility or if "a veteran and the veteran's referring clinician agree that furnishing care or services in the community would be in the best medical interest of the veteran," according to the New York Times.

According to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, an additional 640,000 veterans each year will seek care outside the VA system, and the legislation requires VA to negotiate a contract for veterans to seek care at private walk-in clinics.

In his farewell address, Trump again refers to passing "VA Choice." Trump did authorize an extension of Choice, and then its replacement, the VA Mission Act. But as we've discussed for years, Choice itself was passed under the Obama admin.

— Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett) January 19, 2021

Trump repeatedly has claimed credit for passing the VA Choice Act. According to the Washington Post, Trump has mentioned some version of his VA Choice Act mistruth more than 156 times.

While speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in 2018, Trump conflated the act passed under Obama and the Mission Act expansion.

"We passed Veterans Choice, the biggest thing ever, the biggest thing. That's got to be the biggest improvement you can have. So now, if you can't get treatment that you need in a timely manner—people used to wait two weeks, three weeks, eight weeks, they couldn't get to a doctor—you will have the right to see a private doctor immediately and we will pay for it," he said.

More recently, Trump began to distinguish the two pieces of legislation in a way that disparaged Obama's version and bolstered his update.

"For more than 45 years, they were trying to get Choice," Trump said in a video posted on his personal Twitter account. "Obama gave you a weak version that didn't work. It was a joke. I gave you the Mission Act, which is phenomenal, and it's worked out fantastically well."

However, Trump returned to taking credit for the Choice Act shortly before the 2020 presidential election.

"And for our great veterans, we passed VA Choice and VA Accountability," Trump said at an event in Erie, Pennsylvania.

His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, also cited false statistics about when the update was signed.

"After finding in 2015 that as many as 307,000 veterans could have died waiting for care on Obama and Biden's watch, another 2017 VA Inspector General report found that President Obama created 'several barriers' to veterans receiving outside care," McEnany wrote in a statement. "President Trump fixed Obama's broken VA and offered actual, permanent choice to millions of veterans."

The Ruling

False.

Trump falsely took credit for passing the VA Choice Act several times during his term in office. The Choice Act was passed under Obama. Trump passed an update and expansion of that bill known as the Mission Act in 2018.

VA testing site
An official at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday that some employees at a VA facility in LaSalle, Illinois, continued working in COVID-19 units after testing positive for the virus. In the photo, a healthcare worker at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center waits outside a surge tent to receive his COVID-19 vaccination on December 16, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty