Commentary

$10 Billion Veterans Choice Program is Failing Our Veterans

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Although it doesn’t happen often, last week, National Public Radio and I were on the same page. They put out an article around the same time as mine about how our veterans are waiting longer than ever to see physicians.

It’s encouraging to know that there is a broad interest in examining the progress in the state of our veterans’ medical care over the two years since the VA scandal broke. And from what it seems, NPR agrees there haven’t been many strides toward success.

They mention how “At one facility in Phoenix, for example, veterans waited an average of 115 days for an appointment. Adding insult to injury, some VA schedulers were told to falsify data to make it look like the waits weren’t that bad.” Forcing those who need appointments and treatment to wait for care is bad enough, but knowingly manipulating data and information to contort appearances is far worse.

Two years ago, Congress passed Veterans Choice, a $10 billion program that allows veterans the opportunity to see a non-VA doctor if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or hospital or have to wait more than 30 days to be seen by a VA provider. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable solution, however, it has had the opposite effect on wait times, which are now even longer than they were two years ago.

Unfortunately, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to set the program up. To meet the tight deadline, the VA contracted with two private companies to administer the program, and it has been one nightmare after another ever since. Compared with this time last year, there are 70,000 more appointments that took veterans at least a month to be seen.”

That number is simply heartbreaking. It’s outrageous that in spite of a $10 billion investment, veterans are still not being attended to. Washington policies that were meant to eliminate the bureaucracy around VA hospitals have had the opposite effect, largely due to the confusing and complicated nature of the program. When it comes to Congress and the Veterans Administration, it always seems to be one step forward and two steps back.

NPR highlights two veterans specifically, one hoping to have his hearing aids fixed, and the other faces an “undiagnosed spinal growth.” Both veteran’s stories have similar themes. They discuss the hours spent on the phone trying to schedule an appointment, and being told it would take “months” to be seen. It’s the same sad tale told over and over again.

This is an issue that we all should be concerned with, regardless of political affiliations. When the VA scandal broke in 2014, there was consensus that America would fix the system and help our veterans. Yet, the system is as broken as ever.

About Lauren Stimpert

Lauren is a senior at Bates College. She currently serves as the Vice President of the Bates College Republicans as well as the Secretary for the Maine Federation of College Republicans. She is a New Hampshire native and self-identified political junkie.

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