Veterans are still waiting to see a doctor. Two years ago, vets were waiting a long time for care at Veterans Affairs clinics. At one facility in Phoenix, for example, veterans waited on average 115 days for an appointment. Adding insult to injury, some VA schedulers were told to falsify data to make it looks like the waits weren’t that bad. The whole scandal ended up forcing the resignation of the VA secretary at the time, Eric Shinseki.
Congress and the VA came up with a fix: Veterans Choice, a $10 billion program. Veterans received a card that was supposed to allow them to see a non-VA doctor if they were either more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or they were going to have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA provider to see them.
The problem was, Congress gave them only 90 days to set up the system. Facing that deadline, the VA turned to two private companies to administer the program — helping veterans get an appointment with a doctor and then working with the VA to pay that doctor.
It sounds like a simple idea but it’s not working. Wait times have gotten worse. There are 70,000 more vets waiting at least a month for an appointment than there were at this time last year.
The VA claims there has been a massive increase in demand for care, but the problem has more to do with the way Veterans Choice was set up. It is confusing and complicated. Vets don’t understand it, doctors don’t understand it and even VA administrators admit they can’t always figure it out.