The government’s new program designed to help veterans receive faster medical care is facing growing criticism from veterans, providers and lawmakers.
Hundreds of thousands of Illinois veterans could be impacted if delays continue to occur with Veterans Choice, the program which allows vets already enrolled in VA (Veterans Affairs) health care to receive care from non-VA doctors.
“I would say it’s a pretty big problem,” said Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Kirk said six Illinois veterans have already contacted his office to complain about bills they have received from Veterans Choice providers. Kirk said there could be many more veterans facing similar payment issues who have yet to speak out.
Providers, too, have noticed payment delays from the private company hired by the government to manage Veterans Choice.
Jim Zotti owns Red Aspen Acupuncture in La Grange. His practice is authorized by the government to treat veterans through Veterans Choice. Zotti said it took several months to be reimbursed nearly $10,000. He said at one point his acupuncture specialists were starting to balk at treating the veterans and adding new veteran patients.
“We’d like it to be a more efficient process so that we can serve the vets and help these guys with their conditions,” Zotti said.
Some of the veterans who receive treatment at Red Aspen Acupuncture said Veterans Choice comes in handy, but the program has glitches.
Vietnam combat veteran Raymond Capiz receives routine acupuncture for his neck and said he does not want to lose access to his routine treatments outside of the VA.
“To me it would seem like a loss of a tremendous treatment that was beneficial for me,” Capiz said.
Kirk also wrote a letter to the Secretary of the VA, Robert McDonald, expressing his concerns about the result of a recent Inspector General’s report that found nearly 300 veterans in Colorado were not added to the Veterans Choice List in a timely manner, even though they qualified.
“We have intended this to be less hassle and not as much bureaucracy and the VA should not stand in the way of health care for veterans,” Kirk said.
President Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in 2014 after Americans learned that thousands of veterans were waiting months for appointments at VA facilities and some were dying before they ever received care.
Representative Robert Dold (IL-10) said he has also heard of reimbursement issues in his district regarding Veterans Choice.
“While care remains strong at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in the district that I represent, the lack of urgency among D.C. bureaucrats running the Department of Veterans Affairs must end so that all veterans can have the access to the high-quality, timely care that was envisioned by lawmakers when Congress passed the Choice Act,” Dold said.
Veterans Affairs did not return our request for comment regarding the Veterans Choice program.