VA scandal: Attempted wait-times fix causes more confusion

The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) attempt to give veterans more options for care may confuse the people it was intended to benefit, the Washington Post reports.

After revelations of long wait times for veterans at VA facilities led to a nationwide scandal, legislation passed last year created the "choice card" program, allowing veterans facing a wait of 30 days or more or who lived more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility to seek care with a private provider.

But some veterans report problems using the card, telling the Post the department told them the 40-mile threshold only applied to a straight line or "as the crow flies," while VA doctors told the Post they too were confused. One woman reported receiving a card in the mail for her stepfather, who died in 2009.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) has co-sponsored legislation intended to fix the convoluted distance requirements. Huelskamp's district has 63 rural counties, none of which have a VA facility. Huelskamp's bill would amend the 40-mile requirement to be based on actual driving distance rather than the radius. It would also clarify that the requirement would apply directly to the type of care the veteran was seeking, which means veterans who live in an area with an outpatient clinic would not be barred from seeking care at a facility that better suits their needs.

"Refusing to allow these men and women to choose their local hospital and doctor and forcing them to drive huge distances in simply unacceptable--they deserve better," Huelskamp told the newspaper.

Thus far, 27,000 veterans have used the card to make appointments for private care, a miniscule amount compared to the 9 million people who receive care through the VA, according to the Washington Post.

In addition to issues with the choice card program, the VA is struggling with other fixes for its problems, with critics of VA Secretary Robert McDonald saying the VA has not made necessary improvements in transparency, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article
- here's the legislation