The VA Is Trying To Remove Barriers To Health Care For Vets. But Is It Working?

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The Department of Veterans Affairs finally consolidated some complex portions of the Veterans Choice Program to give veterans easier access to health care. The move streamlines eligibility requirements to reduce the time veterans must wait to see health care professionals. Some critics, even in Congress, claim this move hasn't made it easier for veterans whatsoever.

House Veterans` Affairs Subcommittee on Health / Via Congresswoman Julia Brownley

House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health / Via Congresswoman Julia Brownley

What Changed

Before the eligibility requirements changed, the Department of Veterans Affairs required vets to meet three requirements for eligibility:

  1. Veterans must have enrolled in VA's insurance by Aug. 1, 2014.
  2. They must have experienced an excessive burden of eligibility for health coverage due to someone's inability to travel.
  3. They must have lived 40 miles away or more from the closest VA medical facility.

Instead, veterans only have to meet one requirement instead of all three to remove barriers from their health care access. This includes a wait time of longer than 30 days regardless of someone's distance from the medical facility. If a veteran needs to reach the facility by ferry, boat, or air travel, that person becomes eligible for the Veterans Choice Program. Someone living in a state or territory without a full-service VA medical facility (such as Alaska, Hawaii, or most of New Hampshire) may also be eligible for Veterans Choice . The idea behind these requirements is to alleviate wait times for veterans who need care.

What the Program Does

The Veterans Choice Program allows veterans to receive care in their communities instead of having to travel to a facility. A participating private-sector doctor sees the patient after the original provider sets an appointment. These visits cover anything already diagnosed by the veteran's regular doctor and don't serve as a way to seek new treatments. Despite these program improvements, some critics say it hasn't made wait times any shorter whatsoever.

Critical Opinion

The Washington Times notes critics in Congress, such as Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), say they're upset that the VA is outsourcing care rather than building new facilities. Sullivan argues that remote areas, such as Alaska and Hawaii, should have full-fledged VA medical facilities to serve the country's veterans. Another criticism is that private-sector doctors may not understand the needs of veterans who have endured unique emotional and physical scars that are much different from civilian experiences.

The Orange County Register says appointment-setters often don't know the rules of the program. Not enough veterans know about the initiative. Confusion has also set in as to the roles that civilian doctors and government agencies play in the program. One veteran, Robert Cobble, waited more than a month to determine if a lump on his brain was a tumor or not. The VA didn't get things straightened out until the O.C. Register called and complained on Cobble's behalf.Other veterans have expressed difficulties regarding seeking access to basic care through the VA. This situation is unacceptable as these veterans and their families have made sacrifices defending America's freedom.

Read more about the Veterans Choice program on our blog.

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