How the Veteran’s Choice program really works or for once NPR actually got a story right. Like most of Washington speak the title of a program usually is inversely descriptive of the results. Veterans still have no choice.
Recently I needed to have a consult with an ENT specialist. The “local” VA facility with an ENT was a 5 hour round trip from where I live. Because I also live within 40 miles of a clinic, even if they don’t provide the needed service, I am ineligible for the Veteran’s Choice Program, so 5 hours are routinely spent getting care.
In this case however the “local” VA facility lost their ENT (I don’t know why but after seeing that person some time ago, well, trust me it wasn’t a great loss). That triggered a condition where I could use the Veteran’s choice program. You see the next closest VA facility with an ENT is a 7 hour round trip and somewhere in the bowels of the VA there is a department that determines arbitrarily that if you travel some amount of distance over a 5 hour round trip you can get into the club, but just for this one instance mind you.
You might think “Great! Now I can see a local doctor of my choice!” and you would be wrong. First you have to find a doctor who will take the program on and I mean take it on. You see it isn’t enough that they are board certified and have the appropriate licenses, nope, they must also jump through hoops to be “qualified” by the VA. What do they get in return for all the paperwork and reproving their abilities to the VA? Very few patients to try and get a return on that time invested, slow pay, and far below market value payment for services. Right there our choice is limited to the one or maybe two providers brave enough to attempt the gauntlet of approval and ensuing bureaucratic punishment for trying to do a good turn.
Two weeks after my initial exam I was told of my eligibility to use the program and that they, the program administrators, would be calling me with appointment information. After another two weeks I got a call from the program administrators.
That call informed me that they didn’t have a doctor for the program in my area. This started a search for one that would take me on as a patient. A week and a half later one was identified, it was in the next city 25 miles away. The appointment scheduled for me was two and a half weeks out and happened to conflict with another VA appointment. So here I sit waiting for a change to an appointment that was created just over 8 weeks from the time it was determined I needed to see an ENT specialist. I am still not sure when that will ever happen.
Choice? Only in Washington could this ever be classified in that way.