Will the Choice Program Do More Harm than Good?


Dear Sgt. Shaft,

In your most recent article you stated, “The legislation includes $10 billion in emergency funding to offer veterans who can’t get VA medical care within 30 days the option to receive non-VA treatment…”

The fact is this legislation does not give this option to the veterans…it is given to the VA hospitals. Which means, quite frankly, the VA hospitals will again mismanage and manipulate this option to prevent bad marks on their scorecards. Another fact is this program already exists, called the Non-VA Healthcare program (previously called Fee-Basis), has been around for decades, and has routinely been ignored as a feasible option for timely delivery of VA care except in VERY RARE and VERY UNUSUAL circumstances.

Sorry, but the fact are the facts…the average Joe on the street doesn’t know this.

VSOs in the field are already putting out brush fires resulting from how this legislation was publicly released; veterans believe that they can simply go to a private healthcare provider on their own using their VA Healthcare Identification Card (VHIC), if they have been waiting longer than 30-days for an appointment or if the VA schedules an appointment for them farther out than 30-days into the future. The VSOs are then left to tell them this will result in a bill that they will be required to pay.

Rich H. Columbia County Veteran Service Officer

Dear Rich,

According to the Staff Director of the House veterans Affairs Committee, the answer is no, the language is quite clear. Unlike VA's fee-care program (where VA decides when to use private docs) the Choice program allows vets to exercise the option if certain conditions exist, i.e., no VA appointment availability within 30 days or the vet resides forty miles from the nearest VA. We'll obviously have to conduct vigorous oversight to ensure VA isn't gaming this program, but its design is fundamentally different than regular fee care.

Shaft Notes

• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it has launched a new campaign to educate Veterans about identity theft prevention. The new campaign, titled More Than a Number, references the personally identifiable information that VA encourages Veterans to protect.

“We recognize that for Veterans, as for all Americans in the digital age, identity theft is a growing concern,” said Steph Warren, VA’s Chief Information Officer. “Our goal is to help educate and protect those who have protected this great country.”

VA’s Office of Information and Technology recently announced the launch of a new website containing identity theft resources for Veterans and their beneficiaries. The website can be found at www.va.gov/identitytheft and features educational information, interactive multimedia and links to other online identity theft prevention resources. The campaign also includes a toll-free help line offering support for Veterans, their beneficiaries and VA employees who have questions and concerns about identity theft. The toll-free number is 1-855-578-5492, and it will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m., EST.

In defending against identity theft, VA understands that awareness is critical. With More Than a Number, VA aims to educate Veterans on the risk of identity theft and how to avoid becoming a victim.

“Small changes can have big consequences,” Warren added. “Little things like shredding banking statements before throwing them away or using strong and unique passwords for all of your accounts can make a significant difference in protecting your identity from thieves who may try to use your personal information.”

VA takes seriously its obligation to properly safeguard any personal information within its possession and has in place a strong multi-layered defense to combat evolving cyber security threats. VA is committed to protecting Veteran information, continuing its efforts to strengthen information security and putting in place the technology and processes to ensure that Veteran data at VA is secure.

In the event of a loss of VA data, VA has safeguards in place to protect against identity fraud. Acting out of an abundance of caution, VA’s standard practice is to provide free credit protection service enrollment, monitoring services and reports, fraudulent charge alerts, and fraud resolution and identity theft insurance to individuals affected by a VA data breach with a reasonable risk for the potential misuse of any sensitive personal information.

For additional information on identity theft, visit www.va.gov/identitytheft or contact the VA Identity Safety Service at vaidtheft@va.gov.

• In addition, the VA also announced that primary care has been added to the services available to Veterans through VA’s Patient-Centered Community Care (PC3) contracts, a key and evolving part of the non-VA medical care program. Eligible Veterans are already able to access inpatient specialty care, outpatient specialty care, mental health care, limited emergency care and limited newborn care for female Veterans following childbirth under PC3.

“With the addition of primary care services, VA Medical Centers can now use PC3 to provide additional types of care in order to reduce wait times,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “This modification is another example of how we are working to ensure Veterans get the care they need, when they need it and where they want to be seen.”

This modification supports VA’s Accelerated Care Initiative, helping to move Veterans off of waitlists and into care. Additionally, reduced commuting standards will require that contracted providers schedule appointments closer to the Veterans’ homes.

The initial PC3 contracts were awarded in September 2013 to Tri-West and HealthNet and have been used as part of the non-VA medical care program to purchase care in the community.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

Show Full Article