Veterans Choice Card
There’s an old saying in the news industry: if it bleeds, it leads. The media knows that people are more prone to pay attention to things like violence, disasters, and scandals. Over the past year, we have seen our share of bad news when it comes to the VA. The previous VA administration ran a nationally instituted shell game full of doctored wait times and secret lists. The only goal was to make more money.
Many men and women who rely solely on the VA for their well-being were let down. Some even lost their life. The result was a shakeup at state VA health care facilities and a change in leadership at the national level.
Bad news about the VA dominated news cycles for much of 2014. It should be little surprise that those at the VA have tried to re-brand the image of the department. Now that we have experienced all of the bad news from the VA scandal, what is being done to improve it?
The VA has changed some things. They have a new director, more staff, and are being given even more funding to improve care for veterans. Some highlights from the VA Budget 2016 include:
- Increased money for medical care ($59 billion)
- Specific funding for meeting the needs of the more than 750,000 service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan ($4.2 billion)
- An overall expansion of mental health care ($7.2 billion)
Folks in Congress and those at the VA got the message that more funding needs to be spent in the correct areas.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the VA is pursuing a very simple (and expensive) fix to their wait time issue that could be problematic for veterans in the years to come.
In August of 2014, President Obama signed the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act, creating the Veterans Choice Program and the Veterans Choice Card. This program allocates $10 billon for veterans to use for non-VA health care. It was the centerpiece of the law, and is supposed to serve as a viable solution to the long-term issue of long wait times at VA health care facilities.
In theory, former servicemen and women could use a VA-issued card to seek health care services outside of the VA system. Unfortunately, the Veterans Choice Program comes with a series of caveats and tight restrictions:
- Veterans must have enrolled in VA health care before August 2014 or have served in active duty in a theater of combat operations within 5 years of enrolling
- Veterans Choice Cards will be issued to those patients that are scheduled for an appointment longer than 30 days out (but the VA can change this metric and use their own wait time goals)
- VA patients that do receive an appointment with a non-VA health care provider are severely limited to follow-up appointments
- The program only has a shelf life of 3 years (or until funding is exhausted)
On top of all of this, it turns out President Obama is sending legislation to Congress that “would allow the VA to raid the program’s funding…” So the very program Congress is creating to fix long wait times at the VA will either run out of money, have money taken from it by the VA, or simply expire after three years.
Change is happening at VAs across the country, but it is evident that any change will be a slow process. As brought up previously, it remains to be seen if the VA will be up to the task of monitoring the back-and-forth of patients between outside health care and VA care.
Projections put the number of veterans that qualify for the Veterans Choice Card at 9 million. How will the VA monitor health records, appointments, and transitioning care for the millions of new patients when they couldn’t even run their own appointment systems?
Now that change has come to the VA, many assume that the problems are solved, and the I’s will be dotted and T’s will be crossed. Let’s hope the VA isn’t repeating the mistakes of the past.