2014 was a landmark year in the VA’s history—for all the wrong reasons.
The infamous Phoenix wait time scandal revealed concerted efforts by VA officials to suppress wait time data. Dozens of veterans died while waiting to receive care at the Phoenix VA hospital.
In response to the public outcry, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. This law started the Veterans Choice Program, which gives veterans the freedom to visit the health care provider of their choice if their VA is over 40 miles away or their wait is longer than 30 days.
The Choice Program was a step in the right direction, but it remains a limited program. A veteran must meet the criteria to take advantage of the program, and the program itself is mismanaged and flawed. Too many veterans are still forced to face the VA’s long wait times and dysfunctional administration.
In March of this year, the VA inspector general found that wait times are still inaccurately reported. In North Carolina and Virginia (VISN 6) 36 percent of veterans were waiting more than one month to receive care. The VA hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire allegedly had an insect-infested operating room and many of their patients suffered from preventable spine problems. Instances such as these are not uncommon, but rather are brought to light on a fairly regular basis.
Veterans know something needs to change. A recent poll revealed that 61 percent of veterans think it is too difficult to access medical care through the VA, and 98 percent of veterans think they need increased choice.
Choice reform would empower veterans and increase quality and access to care through expanding their health care options. Our veterans deserve the very best care, and increased choice is the best way to accomplish this. If they chose to serve their country, they should also be free to choose their health care provider.