Congress approves $2.1B for Veterans Affairs aid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress has approved $2.1 billion in emergency aid for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fill a budget hole in the ailing private-sector Choice program that threatened to delay medical care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.

The money was included in the year-end temporary spending bill. It will avert a shutdown of Choice, which allows veterans to receive government-paid care from private doctors outside the VA system.

VA Secretary David Shulkin had warned that the program would run out of money next month, with a "dramatic impact" on veterans care if Congress didn't provide emergency money by year's end.

Congress is seeking to overhaul Choice, a campaign priority of President Donald Trump's. But lawmakers haven't been able to reach a longer-term agreement because of rising costs and concerns over privatizing VA.